Robert Wood Johnson Fitness & Wellness
Community Health Fair – September 2016
Tweets and Facebook Posts
Our Therapy Pool is finished with Diamond Brite for a smooth, comfortable surface. Try an aquatics demo this Saturday at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge! Bring your swim stuff! #RWJOBHF16
Aquatics demos this Saturday at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge! Bring your swim stuff! #RWJOBHF16
Private, semi-private, and group training to improve strength, balance, flexibility, and well-being in our Pilates studio. Try a demo this Saturday at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge! #RWJOBHF16
Want to improve your balance, flexibility and strength? Free Pilates demos in our studio this Saturday. #RWJOBHF16
Want to switch up your routine? Our American Barbell dumbbells are the industry standard. Our trainers would love to take you through a dumbbell circuit this Saturday at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge! #RWJOBHF16
We’ve got American Barbell dumbbells, so you can do the heavy lifting – our trainers will show you how this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16 @AmericanBarbell
LIFE FITNESS CLIMBMILLS
Our new Powermill Climbers by Life Fitness are revolving staircases that put your body through a full range-of-motion. Work your calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes as you step! Try it at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
Stairway to Fitness! Work your calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes on our new .@LifeFitness Powermill Climbers! #RWJOBHF16
Jacobs Ladder: low impact, high range-of-motion exercise for a superior cardio workout that works your upper and lower body. It’s self-paced, so the faster you go, the faster it goes! Ready to take your fitness to a higher level? Try one at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
Self-paced cardio that works your upper AND lower body? Time to climb our new Jacobs Ladder. #RWJOBHF16 Sing it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IdDQ066GPU
LIFE FITNESS TREADMILLS
Walking improves your circulation and strengthens your heart and your bones. But why take our word for it? See for yourself on one of our incredible Life Fitness Treadmills at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
OCTANE SEATED ELLIPTICALS
Love elliptical trainers? We think you’d better sit down – seriously! Our Octane Fitness seated elliptical trainers give you all of the benefits of an elliptical trainer, but you’re seated! Zero impact! Try one at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
@octanefitness seated ellipticals – you’ll be at the edge of your seat. Literally. Sit down! #RWJOBHF16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew7Zkkucos8
OCTANE ZERO RUNNERS
Treadmill intensity with the zero-impact you get on an elliptical. Is it possible? Welcome to Zero Runner! Experience the true motion of running with zero impact at our Community Health Fair in Old Bridge this Saturday. #RWJOBHF16
@octanefitness Zero Runner: All Roadrunner, no Coyote. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmMCsS_Mnbs. #RWJOBHF16
Looking to achieve peak performance? The SKILLMILL™ by Technogym® trains the entire body! Power, speed, stamina and agility…what more is there? Our trainers would love to put you through a workout at our Community Health Fair this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
We want to show you what peak performance feels like on our new .@Technogym SKILLMILLS. It’s easier than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP3MFBzMH2o #RWJOBHF16
PRECOR ELLIPTICAL WITH ARMS | Precor Elliptical w/o arms | Precor Treadmills
We’ve got new Precor Experience Series treadmills and ellipticals – come try them at our Community Health Fair this Saturday! You’ll love the personalized exercise experience and entertainment via touchscreen! #RWJOBHF16
We have .@precor Experience™ Series EFX® ellipticals and treadmills! Try them this Saturday. Come get experienced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8-UXN_CYAY
The Queenax™ Functional Training System is the perfect complement to our innovative strength and cardio equipment. It allows for circuit and Small Group Training, functional and suspended bodyweight training and more! Bring a friend and try one of our small group demos this Saturday at our community health fair! #RWJOBHF16
Queenax™ Functional Training System. Bring a friend to our small group demo Saturday at our health fair and work out together! #RWJOBHF16
PRECOR RALLY BIKES
Our new Precor Rally bikes have arrived! These state-of-the-art bikes set the standard for best-in-class indoor cycling experience. Become your own peloton and win your own tour de RWJ Fitness&Wellness Old Bridge. Saddle up at our community health fair this Saturday! #RWJOBHF16
The Alpe d’Huez awaits. Start this Saturday on one of our new .@precor Rally Bikes. #RWJOBHF16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvNiKaA7_hw
NEW KEISER LINE
Our Keiser strength equipment gives everyone, from pro athletes to active seniors, a safe, easy way to build muscle, boost power and improve core stability! Eat your spinach, then have one of our expert trainers put you through a workout this Saturday at our health fair! #RWJOBHF16
How good is @keiserfitness equipment? Find out Saturday at our health fair. The results might astonish you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcOrSWr2HLU
Day-of Social Media Content
Tweets and Facebook-Linkedin Posts
Session 1: The Medium is the Message
Session 2: when we are heading the wrong way, the last thing we need is progress
Annini, Oya and Brice
Constantinos Phellas & Diomedes Koufteros
Session 3: where we’re going, we won’t need roads
Dean Van Leeuwen
Session 4: break from the past
Papageorgio String Quartet
Session 5: future shock
Larnaca Municipality Children’s Choir
Francesca & Ryan
Product Description for BA Stone Culture
15 November 2016
It’s like holding a mirror up to the azure Brazilian sky. This is the feeling you get when your eyes first fall on a polished tile of Azul Macaubas: you imagine the floors and hallways of Heaven are paved with it. One of the most precious and sought-after quartzites on earth, you can find it cladding the Ambiente Showroom in Tokyo, a magnificent building designed by Aldo Rossi and Cappa Kitai Architects and Planners, and on the façade of the Bankhauses Nord/LB in Magdeburg, Germany.
Azul Macaubas is distinctive for its composition, azure-to-white ground with bright azure veining which often forms streaks with vague outlines, like slivers of blue sky framed by wisps of clouds. The veins run straight or in wide curves, converging into one another, creating undulations accented by variations in brightness. The coloring and hardness of this much-loved stone make it perfect for cladding and for décor items, flooring and wall covering. Azul Macaubas is extracted in a quarry near the town of Macaubas in Bahia, Brazil. The quarry produces several thousand tons per year in blocks of varying size and thickness.
For Jay Koppisety, CIO, American Benefits
Leading a team of talented, driven individuals is one of the biggest challenges facing an experienced manager. This challenge becomes a dilemma when individual team members have experience that differs from their manager’s: how does a skilled manager shepherd a diverse group of professionals, each of whom possesses specific skills and knowledge, so it achieves its key goals?
I have had the privilege of working with some of the world’s finest actuaries, IT engineers, project managers, software developers and technologies over the years, and I’ve learned a great deal about how best to manage and work with highly-skilled, talented individuals. I found these people require a mix of nurturing and support in tandem with the space and time to work independently. Adopting this blend of approaches helps real talent succeed, and what might be best described as “hands-on, hands-off,” has completely transformed my leadership style and my approach to the work environment. It is now my goal whenever I manage a team to create and foster a stimulating, energetic work environment, one that motivates my team members to continue to develop their skills and talent while achieving company objectives. The result? A creative, inspiring culture, low employee turnover and real, measurable success in reaching milestones and achieving goals.
Make Work Challenging and Inspiring
As a leader, your passion for a project is crucial to your team’s success. You must communicate your belief in the project to your team and your desire to see it through to completion (to perfection, even) – you want your commitment and enthusiasm to be infectious and, ultimately, inspirational. Be specific about the objectives you wish to achieve and how each will contribute to the completion of the project and to the growth of the enterprise, and be clear with each of your highly-skilled team members about how what he or she does will help the entire team be successful. Challenge these MVPs to provide sophisticated algorithms, creative “what if” scenarios and complex set-of-use cases and quantitative analysis. You can also keep them stimulated by assigning challenging ad hoc tasks from other departments alongside their responsibilities within your department.
Respect Expertise and Don’t Micromanage
Most members of engineering and IT teams are “drafted” with master’s degrees and, in many cases, doctorates; whatever the degree, each of them arrives with tremendous analytical and problem-solving skills. These are brilliant people who have been hired to tackle complex tasks. As their manager, what’s your best approach? Respect their expertise and don’t micromanage them. Let each of your MVPs do his or her job in whatever way works best. This means you shouldn’t bristle at idiosyncratic work habits, including coming to the office a bit late, listening to 90s rock on their iPhones, not exactly “nailing” the office dress code (checkerboard Vans, anyone?) – this is what they need to do to give you their best.
In addition to being a bit lax with these rock stars, you should also seek their opinions and suggestions so as to make them feel valued. You might also learn something new, both from players whose experience is similar to yours and from those whose experience is quite different. By encouraging a real give and take with your team, you will create an atmosphere where people learn from each other. Your thoughtful defiance of traditional leadership styles will serve you in the long run, believe me.
Growth Opportunities, New Technologies
When your team members are worried about job security, it cramps their style and makes it hard for them to achieve their potential. You need to give them real opportunities to contribute to the growth of the organization and, synchronously, to their own professional development. Encourage your stars to shine at conferences and exhibitions, and give them the opportunity to work in other departments, so they can contribute to a variety of projects and learn new skills.
Speaking of new skills, it’s obvious engineers and IT people love new technologies, so let them have at it: give them access to the latest technologies and challenge them to provide proof of concept for the adaptation of these technologies to your current projects. There’s plenty of software and cloud applications available, many offering free trials, so why not give your curious team members the chance to tinker? Their efforts might ultimately benefit the entire company.
An Encouraging Word, A Sense of Humor
When your teams comprise skilled engineers, you need to make each team member feels as if he or she is moving in the right direction – who wants to work in the dark? Be sure to provide positive feedback and constructive criticism as often as you can, both to individuals and to the team as a whole. When you have highly-skilled people doing their best work, they need to know they’re doing well, that they’re achieving milestones…that they’re making real progress. Give everyone feedback as often as you can. This will make everyone feel valued and will demonstrate that you’ve got your hands firmly on the wheel: positive feedback is fuel in your tank; constructive criticism keeps you driving forward. If your team members feel a real sense of accomplishment, they’ll be inspired to keep going, to give you their best. A sense of humor also helps. If you’re stiff and uncomfortable, that’s the kind of environment you’ll create for your team. A bit of self-deprecation, a smile, an informal coffee at the Starbucks downstairs…these are some of the best ways I know to reduce stress and create an enjoyable environment for your team.
Leave and Flexible Work Arrangements
According to recent the most recent SHRM Strategic Benefits Survey, the benefits most sought-after by highly-skilled workers, after health care, are leave and flexible work arrangements. Surprised? Of course you’re not. Make leave and flexible work arrangements part of your ongoing dialogue with your team members, so they know these benefits are available to them. Let them know their satisfaction is one of your concerns, and that everyone, including you, has a personal life and family obligations.
In a recent Linkedin post, Andy Molinsky, author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence, discusses how corporations commit unintended gaffes in foreign environments and how this also takes place, again, quite accidentally, in today’s multi-cultural corporate environments. His prescription? Leaders have to make sure they are aware of and sensitive to cultural differences.
I absolutely agree. Throughout my career I’ve worked with professionals from all over the world, including people from China, Indian, Ireland, Nigeria, Russia and the USA, many of them brilliant and fascinating characters who contributed to my development as a leader and as a person. As a team leader, when we add a new team member from a foreign country, I particularly want him or her to feel at home, at our company and in the USA. I encourage open discussion amongst my team members with any new addition to the team so everyone can describe and explain his or her culture, both at home and at work, so we can examine and understand the differences and similarities between the new member’s work environment in his or her home country and what he or she should expect working with us here in the USA. Once this discussion has taken place, we can move on to a better understanding of the corporate culture at our particular organization and how our entire team can take the culture of each team member into consideration: by achieving what I call “cultural balance,” we make everyone more comfortable and, ultimately, more productive. So let the new guy from Mumbai order lunch for the team from the takeaway curry place a few blocks away, let the engineer from Russia get everyone excited about the World Cup of Hockey…let everyone be themselves, and watch your team cohere.
With so much talent in the room, there are bound to be conflicts and disagreements, especially when it comes to design and problem-solving. Use these differences of opinion as a way to get a lot of ideas and perspectives on the table: keep everyone calm by adopting a “debate” format wherein each team member gets to express his or her ideas, then make sure any criticism is positive and delivered calmly and clearly. It’s your job, as a leader, to keep the discussion from devolving into an argument, to engender meaningful discussion and keep drama to a minimum (hurt feelings don’t lend themselves to productivity). Make sure you keep everyone’s focus on the task at hand. Put things to a vote when necessary, and watch for simmering conflicts – you might need to call two or three team members into your office to hammer things out in private.
Crises happen, no way around it. What kind of crises will you face as a leader, and what’s the best way to respond to them? Before anything else, you need remain calm and composed whenever a crisis arises, as your team will take their behavioral cues from you: your attitude toward a crisis and the quality of support you provide to your team in the face of a crisis determines the attitude your team will take. Some of the crises that may blindside you include:
The best way to address any of the above is to DASH in. What is DASH, you may ask? It’s an acronym for Direction, Action, Sympathy and Honesty. When crises occur, the best thing you can do is: 1. Maintain Direction. 2. Take Action. 3. Have Sympathy for individual team members, whatever duress they find themselves under. 4. Be Honest with your team about what’s happened and how you intend to fix the problem. The sooner you DASH in, the more esteem your team will have for your leadership. And the sooner you’ll fix the problem.
When it comes to leadership, each of has his or her own style, as we should. There’s nothing better than having the chance to lead a team of talented people, but just because you’re working with all-stars doesn’t mean you can switch to auto-pilot or hand your team over to your assistant coaches. Real leaders help their teams achieve a company’s objectives while supporting individual team members in the development of their careers. They create and maintain an energetic, healthy, positive work environment, one in which their MVPs can have fun while they produce and evolve. Follow these simple instructions and, most importantly, lead the way you’d like to be led: you’ll be thrilled to see how many times your team crosses into the end zone.
“You are born to a mother and a father, or at least that’s how it should be,” Mr. Dolce said. “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”
This is the quote that inaugurated the current Dolce & Gabbana debacle, both an epic public relations fail and, quite simply, rather vulgar behavior. Mr. Dolce’s concise tirade isn’t only an insult to gay parents, but to anyone, individual or couple, who seeks to create a family by any alternative form of conception, including artificial insemination, IVF, GIFT, ZIFT, ICSI, donor or frozen eggs and sperm, and surrogacy. According to the World Health Organization, one in every four couples in developing countries had been found to be affected by infertility.
Barbarians on the runway? Whatever you think, Jacob Bernstein of The New York Times brings up an interesting point in his March 18th article, on the recent Dolce & Gabbana debacle (PR and humanist), “Dolce & Gabbana Comments Trigger Public Outrage…and Uncomfortable Silence:”
“The difference this time, in what seems like a tacit acknowledgment of the power a major advertiser wields in the publishing world: no editor of a fashion magazine contacted for this article would agree to comment or even be interviewed about the proposed boycott, not even Anna Wintour of Vogue, who took a very public stance over the Brunei issue, banning Vogue staff members from staying at those hotels and actively encouraging other Condé Nast executives to do the same.
While we hope the outcry and dismay over Mr. Dolce’s insensitivity forces these legendary designers to rethink what they tell the media and how they say it, we think there’s a very simple solution for Anna Wintour and other fashion editors and industry players. If we were Vogue’s PR agency, we would prepare the following statement:
“We at Vogue have long been enamored of the exquisite work of Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana, and we are honored by their decision, year after year, to advertise with us. As journalists, we believe in freedom of speech and other forms of expression, and we will never waver in our support for everyone’s right to express themselves and their beliefs as they wish. It is in this spirit, as human beings, some of us spouses or partners, some of us parents, all of us children – we believe a family is defined by love, care, concern and support, not by the gender or number of the parents, nor by the means by which their children came into this world.
There are a number of organizations who feel the same way – here are a few:
And Ms. Wintour, if you’re reading this, call us anytime.
“The Fight for $15” began last year with a number of activist organizations, particularly Fight for $15 itself, which brought together American fast food workers to push McDonald’s and other fast food companies to pay its low-wage employees $15 per hour. This cri de coeur might have begun at Walmart, where many of the company’s low-wage employees have been protesting the company’s employment policies since early in the decade. On Black Friday 2014, perhaps the busiest day of the year for the American retail sector, many Walmart employees participated in a national strike led by OUR Walmart.
On Thursday, February 19th, Walmart announced it would raise the minimum wage for employees on the floor at its stores, more than a half-million workers, to $9 per hour. According to a New York Times article published the same day, the pay increase will take effect in April of this year, followed by a second increase, to $10, by February 2016.
The increase isn’t very much, only $1.75 more than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and still $.10 less than the $10.10 proposed by President Obama. $9 per hour for 40 hours per week generates an annual gross paycheck of $18,720 – compare this with the 2015 poverty guidelines issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which lists the poverty guidelines for households of one, two and four members as $11,770, $15,930 and $24,250, respectively. Is there any reason, in this day and age, that someone should be gainfully employed fulltime – in this case by the one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies, first on the Fortune 500 in 2014 – and still remain in poverty?
Walmart made about $17 billion in profits in 2013. In a Fortune article dated November 12, 2013, Stephen Gandel writes:
Wal-Mart has a book value of $76.7 billion. Take 15.4% of that, and that means investors are looking to get paid $11.8 billion a year. That leaves $101 billion to pay employees…the average Walmart employee’s take home pay should be $33,315.
We applaud this significant first step by Walmart, but it’s not enough. We want to see better pay and benefits for all of Walmart’s fulltime low-wage employees, and better pay for the company’s part time low-wage employees. Walmart can absolutely afford to do it, and without taking a deep cut in profits or knocking down its share price.
There’s no law that says major corporations in the USA have to pay their employees more than the federally-mandated minimum wage, whether it remains at $7.25 or leaps all the way to $10.10, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if they did? For public relations, the goodwill this would generate is immeasureable. What’s far more important, though, is the improvement of the quality of life for the more than one million people – approximately 1% of the American workforce – working for the Walton family, which owns about 50% of the company. Once these workers are provided something closer to a living wage, they will in turn put more money into the American economy, perhaps spending even more of their income at Walmart stores.
This is from Paul Krugman’s 2 March 2015 column in The New York Times, Walmart’s Visible Hand:
A few days ago Walmart, America’s largest employer, announced that it will raise wages for half a million workers. For many of those workers the gains will be small, but the announcement is nonetheless a very big deal, for two reasons. First, there will be spillovers: Walmart is so big that its action will probably lead to raises for millions of workers employed by other companies. Second, and arguably far more important, is what Walmart’s move tells us — namely, that low wages are a political choice, and we can and should choose differently.
Here’s hoping the Waltons have the vision and largess to choose differently, and that ultimately they decide to pay their people what they deserve. And need. And that other American corporations follow in their bold footsteps.
Even Gold Blushes: Rose Gold Engagement Rings (and Why and How We Blush)
First popularized by French jewelry giant Cartier during the Roaring Twenties, rose gold has seen a resurgence in popularity, particularly rose gold engagement rings, which seem to have eclipsed platinum as the current “rings of choice” across the USAthanks to their exquisite color and vintage feel.Cartier’s legendary Trinity band, which comprised one rose, one white and one yellow gold band, was worn by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who wore two Trinity bands side by side on one of his pinkies.
Rose gold is also known as pink gold. While it appears more exotic than yellow or white gold, the secret to its color can be found in the pennies in just about any piggy bank or jar of coins – copper! Pure gold (24-karat, 99% or more gold) is too soft to be worn on its own, so it must be mixed with an alloy so it can be shaped into jewelry and worn. Rose gold is the result of combining humble copper with gold; the copper makes the gold appear to “blush.”
What makes people blush? We tend to blush whenever we’re embarrassed or exposed. For example, if someone to whom you’re attracted to responds in kind, you may very well blush. When you are unnerved, your body releases adrenaline, a natural stimulant that accelerates your heartbeat and your breathing. Adrenaline also causes your blood vessels to dilate – this includes the veins in your face: more blood flows through them than usual, turning your cheeks rose.
It’s not always embarrassment that makes us blush. Many things bring color to our cheeks, including flattering compliments, a beloved’s longing…a rose gold engagement ring. Barkev’s has been producing exquisite rose gold engagement rings in Southern California since the 1980s. Stop by any shop where our rings are sold and let one of our experts help you find the perfect rose gold engagement ring. One that will make her truly blush.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Altered Minds DVD Review
Released on DVD in June 2016, Altered Minds is the much-lauded psychological thriller from Generation X auteur Michael Z. Wechsler, whose 1999 comedy, Slaves of Hollywood, was a sly insider’s view of the bottom rung of the film industry, an absurdist Swingers. Mr. Wechsler took a decade to bring us Altered Minds (originally titled Red Robin) and, given the craftsmanship on display in the film, it’s obvious why it took Mr. Wechsler, who wrote, directed and produced Altered Minds, so long to bring us such a dark, troubling and carefully-made film. Slaves of Hollywood was a lot of fun, a “piss-take,” as the Brits say. To describe Altered Minds as Lord Alfred Tennyson might have, here “gloom the dark, broad seas.” The film is a great leap forward for Mr. Wechsler and an award-winner: after its world premiere at the Montreal Film Festival, Altered Minds won a Jury Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the 2014 Gasparilla International Film Festival and awards for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography at the Oaxaca Film Festival. It was also an Official Selection at more than 20 festivals worldwide, including Glasgow International Film Festival, Fantasporto Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival and Woodstock Film Festival. We may have found ourselves, luckily, in the midst of Mr. Wechsler’s great leap forward.
Dr. Nathan Shellner, as played at perfect pitch by underrated American treasure Judd Hirsch, is the paterfamilias of the Shellner family, longtime residents of a leafy, sleepy enclave in suburban Philadelphia. Dr. Shellner is a loving husband and father and a renowned psychiatrist, the founder of a clinic, and a treatment method, for American veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a physician described by LBJ as “a true American patriot.” From this coruscation we wade into the darkness (and yes, read on, what I’m about to tell you certainly shades the film, but your knowledge of it won’t minimize the suspense Mr. Wechsler has in store for you): Dr. Shellner was also part of a group of doctors who, for reasons best described in our current parlance as “homeland security,” performed mind-control experiments on some of the veterans in their care.
Welcome to American cinema (and television) after Abu Graihb. Torture, once a rarity in most films and shows – or played for laughs, as in the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride – is a dominant theme, from 24 to the remake of Casino Royale (2006), in which arch villain Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen, chains Daniel Craig’s 007 (already battered and stripped naked) to a chair and whips his testicles again and again with a thick rope. We have eaten a bitter apple, and its aroma and taste have suffused much of our film culture (Deadpool (2016), anyone?). Of course, the justification for what we did at Abu Graihb, at our “black sites” and at Guantanamo is the capture of intelligence crucial to the defeat of an amorphous, sinister enemy with immense resources and no fixed address, one who, should it achieve its objectives, will take delight in the utter destruction of the world. We are told this intelligence will save American lives, French lives, British lives, Spanish lives, Turkish lives…and thus we must procure it by “any means necessary,” even if those means include beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions beyond what the average human being can handle, waterboarding…even if they are immoral (to say nothing of illegal).
What decisions did Shellner make when he permitted the use of his patients as guinea pigs? How did a loving father and a patriot come to participate in the torture of his own countrymen, all for the sake of perfecting torture to be used against whomever our current enemy might be? So Altered Minds, in the person of Dr. Nathan Shellner, asks the question we have been forced to ask ourselves since the discovery of what was done to Iraqi prisoners at Abu Graihb: what wrongs are we willing to essay, what sins are we willing to commit, for a greater good and what is that good? If we are each charged with creating our own moral universe with a set of fixed thresholds, thresholds that define who each of us is at the core of his or her being, what makes it possible for us to cross them? Once? Repeatedly? And, regardless of the crimes we may commit against others during travels we swore we’d never embark upon, who are we once we’ve done so? Every performance in this terrific ensemble piece is carefully measured and pitch-perfect, and none more so than Hirsch’s. Dr. Shellner is a loving, empathetic father and husband and a brilliant psychiatrist, and Hirsch gives him a palpable dignity and a bookish elegance, such that we understand Shellner’s “villainy”, if we can use such a term, was forced upon him. Twice. So Altered Minds is a post-Iraq film because within its narrative torture is a tool and our boundaries, familial and personal in the film and international beyond it, are insecure.
Dr. Shellner has been stricken with lung cancer, and Altered Minds opens on the evening of what may be Dr. Shellner’s last birthday party. The cast of characters includes Dr. Shellner’s wife, Lillian (Caroline Lagerfelt); the Shellner’s one biological child, Leonard (Joseph Lyle Taylor), a psychiatrist who has now runs Dr. Shellner’s clinic; Tommy (Ryan O’Nan), a horror writer and Julie (Jaime Ray Newman), a photographer, adopted as siblings by the Shellners, and Harry (C.S. Lee), a concert violinist adopted by the Shellners from Vietnam. The Shellners, whatever their faults, are loving parents. Throughout the film we are in the midst of a loving family. Like Almodovar, Mr. Wechsler has a penchant for unique, expressive faces, and much of what’s communicated in Altered Minds is done with a shrug or a grimace, with a tear or two but little more, by each member of the film’s outstanding ensemble cast.
All the symbols of family and comfort are present when we arrive at the Shellner household: a blazing fire, a piano, a hearty lunch of brisket and string beans…five or so holiday cards have been affixed to a bulletin board to the left of the kitchen sink, and one reads, in capital letters, “Joy. Noel. Peace.” We’re also greeted by Edmund Choi’s anxious, wintry soundtrack, however, as well as icicles as long and sharp as Crusader swords and faulty household wiring that makes the lights throughout the house flicker and buzz, devices all used to engender our sense of dread. Mr. Wechsler takes great pains, through his lighting and set design, to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, and there’s a feeling of being cramped and constricted that calls to mind Woody Allen’s Interiors (1978), which was Allen’s homage to his beloved Bergman. We are made to understand from the get-go that there will be drink and despair, perhaps even fisticuffs, will ensue. The exterior scenes, all snow and the bare trunks and branches of deciduous trees, might remind you of the scenes in the maze at the Overlook Hotel toward the end of The Shining (1980), another painstakingly-crafted claustrophobic thriller. The exterior scenes are lovely and stark, reminiscent of great black and white photographs.
I appreciate Mr. Wechsler’s other thoughtful touches, like when Tommy builds a snowman on the front lawn. He lights a bent cigarette with a Zippo lighter, and we hear that familiar click and spark (Mr. Wechsler has given as much thought to what we hear throughout Altered Minds as to what we see) – the Zippo then becomes crucial to a discovery made later in the film. Mr. Wechsler has built Altered Minds around a very particular set of images, objects and sounds, and he returns to them again and again, consistent but never tendentious. And it’s this care and consistency that make watching Altered Minds such a satisfying experience.
In a recent review of Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times writes: “More than a century after his birth, Hitchcock remains our contemporary because the world of menace he conjured embodies our deepest, most existential fears. Fears (especially resonant today) that the universe is irrational, that evil lies around the corner, that ordinary life can be ripped apart at any moment by some random unforeseen event…” This is exactly what Mr. Wechsler accomplishes in Altered Minds, and it’s all done without gore, CGI…things go bump in the night, but nothing explodes, arrives from space, races across an Australian desert in a go-kart made out of human skulls…it’s a thriller, yes, but a very old school thriller, the way Hitchcock and Roman Polanski used to make them. The story is jarring, repeatedly, but the film itself, as an artistic endeavor, never strays from what might be construed from its opening scenes as its raison d’etre, its mission statement. Its winter hues and its soundtrack – which is reminiscent of the sound of winter rain, replete with water dripping from icicles – create a chill, one that never warms, even with the blazing fire in the Shellners’ fireplace.
The film belongs to O’Nan, whose Tommy, haunted to the point of terrified, sick to the point of self-destruction, drives the action much the same way Jack O’Connell did with his phenomenal portrayal of Kyle Budwell in Jodie Foster’s recent Money Monster (2015). We watch Altered Minds to find out if Tommy is a boy crying wolf. Wechsler keeps his cards close to his chest, and we trail Tommy throughout the Shellner household and across its front lawn trying to deduce if this is a someone with a mental illness or a personality disorder, or if this is someone who has been abused and neglected but has a sinister theory about his childhood and adolescence that travels far beyond this? The madness afflicting Tommy seeps into his siblings and, toward the middle of the film, Harry, seated in front of the fire, admits he can’t sleep, that when he dreams he “sees children on fire…I wake up and I feel…like a murderer.” What seems to be affecting Tommy seems to grow systemic within the Shellner household. Harry says, “I don’t know. I just need to believe nothing went wrong in this house.” And then we wait to find out…
Shellner tells us, “if a man fails his family, he fails life,” which hearkens back to Don Corleone’s sidelong admonishment of Sonny in The Godfather (1972), when he says, “…a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Mr. Wechsler’s love of movies is obvious, and he’s done his homework. He uses a number of devices from horror films and thrillers, but he demonstrates how much respect he has for our intelligence by using them sparingly and strategically. He never overplays his hand which, to this viewer, demonstrates the influence of Hitchcock. To be honest, though, Hitchcock seemed to be having far more fun in his thrillers than Mr. Wechsler does here, but I believe this is because Mr. Wechsler is asking us two very troubling questions: How do we survive? And, if we do survive, how do we live?
It’s a generous DVD, with a pile of deleted scenes and commentary from the affable Mr. Wechsler, who seems like the kind of gentlemen with whom you’d love to watch a film. The deleted scenes underline how precisely Altered Minds was edited – again, without giving anything away, had they been included, Altered Minds would have been a wildly different film from the version released in theaters and available on this DVD.
If you’re a film lover, this is the perfect stocking stuffer. Unless you’re heading home for Christmas.
Marrying the crispness of British New Wave to the force and melodicism of Britpop, Fractured Life, the tour de force debut from Wessex youngsters Air Traffic arrives on these shores as perhaps one of the most assured first albums by a band since Definitely Maybe, The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker or The Thrills’ So Much for the City. Throughout the album, lead singer and songwriter Chris Wall’s vocals are remarkable; perhaps one of the most singular vocal performances since Jeff Buckley’s vocals on Grace, Liam Gallagher’s on Definitely Maybe or Conor Deasy’s on So Much for the City. Wall’s singing is a revelation, and we may well remember 2008 as the year we first heard his soaring, urgent voice.
One of the great new bands of what might one day be defined as the post-Radiohead era, Air Traffic crafts the kind of smart, muscular anthems that evoke Blur, Jeff Buckley, Coldplay, Oasis, Radiohead, the Stereophonics and U2, while reaching back to the glam guitars and drums of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and a smattering of Smiths songs, including “Panic,” “Sheila Take a Bow” and “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.” Wall is quite young (his gap year after high school, which he spent surfing in Queensland, Australia, was in 2005), and his songs are steeped in the music of the Nineties. Drummer David Jordan and guitarist Tom Pritchard first noticed Wall at a 2003 school concert in Bournemouth, where Wall performed a solo rendition of Radiohead’s “Go to Sleep.” Current bassist Jim Maddock joined Air Traffic after Wall returned from Australia and prior to the recording of Fractured Life.
Air Traffic recorded Fractured Life at Rockfield Studios in Wales, where such booming, echoey masterpieces as Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (and much of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) were recorded. The sound of the entire album is enormous, big piano leads entwined with effects-driven guitar lines that propel soaring, shout-along choruses that smack like cold ocean waves. These are narratives of youth, bowed by love and other sorrows, yet still triumphant, performed by a band of boys whose age belies their impeccable musicianship.
Almost every song on Fractured Life feels like an epic. Album opener “Just Abuse Me” begins with Wall singing over piano, then breaks into a pounding full band performance that sacrifices none of Wall’s melody: “I’ll let you use me, and just abuse me, but girl I want you to be mine.” “Charlotte” combines the angularity of Franz Ferdinand with the bashing melodicism of Material Issue, while piano ballad “Empty Space” is similar to Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” until the song’s operatic finale, when it becomes more aria than pop song, Wall singing his angels up from the sea.
“I Like That” is powered by stomping drums and a restrained guitar squall, with atmospheric boogie woogie piano and a nonsensical refrain of “la-dam-ba-ba-ba-dam…” sung to the tune of the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” at the break. “Never Even Told Me Her Name” is simple New Wave ecstasy suffused with a reference to “Suffragette City,” while “Get in Line” sounds like the Smiths “Girl Afraid” rewritten by Weezer. The song features a percussive guitar lead during the verses, and it’s here you realize that Pritchard, often playing in Wall’s shadow, is a stunning guitarist and Air Traffic’s secret weapon, the co-architect of songs that move liquidly from crescendo to crescendo.
The album’s final two songs (excluding the hidden track), “I Can’t Understand” and “Your Fractured Life,” are elegiac beauties. “Fractured Life” ends with the refrain of “please don’t let me down” repeated again and again, much like the refrain of “how long, to sing this song” at the end of U2’s “Forty.” It’s the most anthemic track on an album with a surfeit of anthems. The song features an especially plangent, hopeful vocal from Wall: “you’ve got the strength within, don’t give up there’s so much more to see, so many things beyond your wildest dreams…the world is at your feet.”
In The Bushwhacked Piano, his first novel, Thomas McGuane writes, “a famous man says that we go through life with a diminishing portfolio of enthusiasms: and these, these these children, these these these these little children, will soon not be able to feel this way about anything again.”
And so, to the gentlemen of Air Traffic – here’s hoping they can keep it rolling.
Prepared for British Airways
(Action Global Communications)
British Airways Brings You Valentine’s Day along the Pacific Coast Highway
In the US, cars and romance are often intertwined in a steamy, high-octane embrace.
Why not try love, American style, along one of the world’s most beautiful roads? Almost as famous as Route 66, the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, is one of the most romantic and relaxing stretches of pavement on Earth, and February in California is cool, dry and delicious. British Airways can fly you and your Valentine direct to LAX from Heathrow, then back to Heathrow from San Francisco International Airport.
Warm up for shopping along Rodeo Drive and in San Francisco’s Union Square with a Valentine’s splurge in some of the shops in British Airways’ new home at Heathrow, Terminal 5. Start with a coffee at Soho patisserie, Amato, or with authentic British fare at Huxley’s, then stroll through some of the world’s finest shops, including Bulgari, Coach, Gucci and David Clulow, where you can shop for a pair of exclusive designer sunglasses? They’ll help you blend in with the Angelenos.
Give your heart to LA before you drive it to San Francisco, which requires at least a day or two in the City of Angels. BA Holidays can help you find a swank hotel like the Millennium Biltmore, in downtown LA, or the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in nearby Redondo Beach. BA Holidays can also arrange a fully narrated city tour which includes the historic Hollywood Bowl, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame, the fabulous Sunset Strip and Beverly Hills, the poshest neighborhood in the US. Tours include shopping on Rodeo Drive, which features exclusive shops such as Bijan, Chanel, Fred Hayman and Gucci. For more information, visit www.baholidays.com (you can also book a tour of the stars’ homes).
An important rule of thumb in Los Angeles: traffic is fierce and omnipresent, so leave yourself enough time between destinations, and be sure to travel with a good map and plenty of patience. Grab lunch in Venice Beach, home to artists and street performers, unique shopping, and Muscle Beach, the famous open-air gym (don’t miss the Jim Morrison mural), and spend an afternoon in Santa Monica on the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with restaurants, shops and movie theaters (don’t miss the dinosaur topiary fountains). Santa Monica is also home to the Getty Museum, one of the finest art collections on the West Coast. High upon a hillside in the Santa Monica Mountains, the museum’s collection is housed in a complex of buildings and gardens built around a beautiful piazza. Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575–1725, is on exhibit at the Getty through 3 May 2009. For a romantic dinner, and a warm-up spin, drive your date up into the Hollywood Hills for Mexican cuisine at Beso.
With your lover beside you and the top down, start north from Los Angeles the following morning – wake up early, you’ve got miles to go and a lot to see before you sleep. The drive should take you about two days. Stop in Santa Barbara for a walk on the pier and a visit to Mission Santa Barbara, built in 1786. North of Santa Barbara, Highway One takes you through Solvang, a Danish village tucked into the hills of northern Santa Barbara County. From there, Route One twists through the hills of Central California until it reaches the sea at Pismo Beach. Enjoy the splendor of Pismo with a walk along the beach, or visit nearby Oceano Dunes Beach, where you can actually drive your car onto the beach.
Finish the first day on Pacific Coast Highway in San Luis Obispo, a quiet hillside town a short drive north from Pismo and the unofficial capital of the Central Coast wine region. Downtown San Luis Obsipo, also known as SLO, is packed with galleries, shops and restaurants, including the Mission Grill, where you can dine under the stars beside the San Luis Obispo Creek (the produce is from local farms). Nighttime should find you ready for a wild night at the Madonna Inn, a San Luis Obispo landmark. The décor in each of its 110 rooms is unique – for Valentine’s Day, check into the “Love Nest” “Romance” or “Vouz”, the only room with a round king bed. The next morning, treat your Valentine to an hour or two at the Spa at Madonna Inn before you hit the road again.
Start your second day on the road in Morro Bay, a picturesque harbor town just north of SLO and home to Morro Rock, a massive dormant volcano located in the center of the Bay. Fuel your engines with a classic American pancake breakfast and a view of Morro Rock at the Otter Rock Café or at the Outrigger Restaurant, both along the Embarcadero. After breakfast it’s onward to San Simeon and Hearst Castle, the former vacation home of William Randolph Hearst, immortalized as Xanadu in Orson Welles’s masterpiece, Citizen Kane. There are tours throughout the day, the first at 8:20 am.
After you tear yourselves away from the ornate majesty of Hearst Castle, you will soon find yourself in the heart of the Central Coast, driving along cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean, deep blue and sun-kissed, toward Big Sur and its dense forests. Stop for lunch at Nepenthe, a family-owned restaurant built at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The restaurant provides benches and blankets for its guests, so feel free to linger with a glass of wine and enjoy a stunning view of the ocean. After lunch, continue north, through Carmel and into Monterrey, where you can hear sea lions barking as you enjoy an ice cream cone while you take a romantic stroll along the pier. Evening should find you driving into San Francisco, sparkling like a jewel at the tip of the Peninsula.
Spend a few days in America’s loveliest city – you can book a room through baholidays.com at the Monaco, a restored 20th century hotel that features original art in its lobby and in every room, or at the San Francisco Clift, Phillippe Starck’s Union Square destination hotel – the lobby bar is Starck’s plush, sophisticated take on a hunting lodge. Ride the cable cars up and down California Street, and take a walk down 24th Street between Mission and Potrero for a tour of some of the city’s best murals and some of its best burritos. Hayes Valley, just behind City Hall and within walking distance of Union Square, is packed with one-of-a-kind shops – browse for antiques, try on shoes, or head straight to Alla Prima and shop for lingerie (it is Valentine’s Day, after all).
With apologies to New York, San Francisco may be America’s best city for dining. Try Belden Lane, a short walk across Union Square, for romantic al fresco dining at Café Bastille, Plouf, Café Tiramisu or B44, the city’s only Catalan restaurant – the alley is closed to traffic from lunchtime and strung with lights after dark. For gustatory adventures further afield, how about some of the best Asian food in the world? Visit the Inner Sunset, particularly Ninth Avenue below Irving, for incredible Thai at Marnee Thai and some of the city’s best sushi at Ebisu. For Vietnamese or Burmese, try Mai’s and Burma Superstar, both on Clement Street at Third. After dinner, browse the massive selection of new and used books at Green Apple on Clement at Sixth in the Inner Richmond, a San Francisco institution and one of the largest independent bookstores in the US. For nightlife, catch some live music at the Great American Music Hall – this former bordello, built in 1907, is one of the most beloved theaters on the West Coast, with floor and balcony seating – or at Café DuNord, a former speakeasy on Market Street. Finish the evening with a nightcap at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Powell, “where the cable cars meet the stars”. With the City by the Bay glittering beneath you, you and your Valentine may remember this as the moment when you left your hearts in San Francisco. San Francisco poet Aaron Shurin once wrote, “beautiful things are necessities.” Come find out why so many people the world over find California so necessary.
Sad as you’ll be to leave the Golden State, you can fly direct to Heathrow from San Francisco. If you have to leave California, you may as well do it in style and comfort. Visit ba.com to book your flights, and find out why the West is the best this Valentine’s Day.
Prepared for Apollo Executive Review
IR in Response to the Current Fiscal Crisis
In his 8 January 2009 column in The New York Times, “The Obama Gap,” Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes, “this is the most dangerous economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it could all too easily turn into a prolonged slump.” Also on 8 January, in a Times article titled, “In Europe, Mounting Signs of a Rapid Slowdown,” journalist Carter Dougherty writes, “a potent mix of negative business sentiment, a hard-hit banking system and a global downturn is working its way through Europe with a vengeance.”
2009 looks to be a difficult time for private and public companies, but public companies especially will face a long and arduous year after a disastrous 4th quarter in 2008. Worldwide participants in the equities markets, particularly those with positions in companies listed on the NYSE, the AMEX and the NASDAQ, have seen, on average, a loss of 30% of the value of their holdings. In the current environment, executing an effective IR strategy may feel a bit like bailing out the Titanic with a teacup, but current market turbulence presents an opportunity for public companies to retool and implement solid IR programs that allay investor fears and prepare the company and its stakeholders for more bullish market conditions.
1. Run, But Don’t Hide.
Many companies, when faced with down markets or other crises, tend to circle their wagons and hide from the spotlight. Don’t. It’s more important now than ever to communicate consistently with shareholders. Any news, even if it’s not prompted by a material event, will assure shareholders that management is running the company, regardless of market conditions. This also means fielding as many shareholder inquiries as possible, from your institutional holders and from individual shareholders. Some of the calls might not be pleasant – take them anyway.
2. Face the Bad News.
Right now, everyone is in the trenches – let your shareholders know that your intention is to ride out the crisis as a solvent, going concern. If your company has to reduce headcount, falls victim to contract cancellations, loses distributors, etc., this is a result of the current crisis – a receding tide drops all boats.
3. Accentuate the Positive<
The product your company launched last summer isn’t any less of a revelation just because the markets are in disarray, nor has the current downturn dimmed the luster of management’s expertise. Whatever you have planned for the next two to four quarters, you should execute. A stockbroker I know in Silicon Valley once told me, “I think any company that’s got decent products and services, experienced management and some money in the bank should see their share price at around $5.” Tough times don’t last, but quality companies do.
4. Leave the Ticker Alone, and Stay Out of the Chat Rooms.
A watched-stock never boils. In down markets, your best strategy is to concentrate on your core business, particularly now, when share price isn’t an effective measure of company performance. And don’t bother with chat rooms – they are a font of rumor and slander. Diminish their impact by issuing news, maintaining shareholder contact and running a solid company.
5. Manage Expectations, Maintain Credibility.
Making promises to shareholders that you can’t keep, even if you have the best intentions, is the equivalent of firing a torpedo into your own hull. Whatever your long-term strategy is, don’t inflate its value. If, before the markets tanked, you were planning on increasing production by 25% and growing margins by 5%, leave the numbers alone – panic won’t help you, and painting the future as an even rosier place than you’d previously promised will only add to your heartache. The best way to inspire shareholder confidence, and to enhance management credibility, is to keep your ducks in a row. “Big hat, no cattle” never works, regardless of market conditions.
6. Get on the Road.
Make yourself available on a regular basis to your institutional shareholders. Of course, it’s Markets 101 that institutions are the backbone of your stability in the public equities markets. Until the markets stop wobbling, you’ll need to do a lot of hand-holding. These folks are in the midst of weathering massive losses, and they’re going to be quite unhappy – make them a bit less so by making management available on a monthly basis, in order to keep them up to date and to explain your plans going forward. Follow up releases and conference calls with personal phone calls to individual fund managers and analysts. The last thing you want is for your biggest holders to start reducing their positions, or for key analysts to downgrade their ratings. Stay in constant contact with these key decision makers, and keep them onboard.
Though we’re facing a dark fiscal era, we will return to a bull market in the future. How long this will take is unknown, but why not prepare for it by taking the bear by the horns? The current economy will test your company’s mettle; it will also provide a valuable opportunity to demonstrate that mettle to your shareholders. Hold the line.
Stereo Embers Magazine
Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream
I am a 40 year-old American from a bedroom community in northeastern New Jersey now residing in Cyprus. I want to declare, today and for all time, that I love Bruce Springsteen so much I can barely describe it, and I’ve felt this way since I first heard him at the tender age of 12, when I tried to learn “Sandy” on an acoustic guitar. Most of the people now alive on Earth, and perhaps half of the people I know, haven’t been alive for as long as I’ve been a Springsteen fan. His work is one of the intrinsic components of my personal mythology and one of the intrinsic components of my day-to-day reality; it rides beside me, and it always buys the smokes. I write this sitting at my desk in my apartment just outside Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, and above me, to my right, is the empty space that’s already been designated for the soon-to-be-framed poster of Springsteen that Borders gave away with every purchase of Magic when it was released in October 2007. I have everything he’s ever done on vinyl and CD, laminated posters from the mid-Eighties in my parents’ attic somewhere, a stack of bootlegs, on vinyl, procured in the Eighties from Village record stores like Venus and It’s Only Rock n’ Roll.
Like most of Springsteen’s fans from New Jersey, particularly those of my generation, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a landscape Springsteen made mythic. Before Springsteen, my home state was a tangle of fetid highways, moribund cities and gritty beaches, and Springsteen took it and made it beautiful. Much like the photographers William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, Springsteen took a bland and sometimes broken and embittered geography and imbued it with a lyric and cinematic beauty; like Newark native Philip Roth, he made New Jersey a place worth writing about.
When I listen to Springsteen, I can see New York through the windshield, off in the distance, across the river, as I drive from the 14C tollbooths on the Turnpike toward the Holland Tunnel, the sky behind me a chemical sherbet of pinks and oranges. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, a surfer from New Jersey, as is Springsteen, and when I hear him today, I can still feel the hot sun as I walk down the boardwalk from my parents’ place on McCabe Avenue in Bradley Beach, my board under my arm, the smell of suntan lotion rising from the baking sand. I started countless bands, wanting to create something as incredible as “Rosalita” or “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; convinced rock stardom was not in my cards, I continued writing, hoping to craft something as beautiful as “Thunder Road,” as perfect as “The River”.
Growing up, Springsteen was our Che Guevara. My hometown of Millburn is a wealthy suburb of New York just 15 miles due west, down Route 78, from the Holland Tunnel, and it shares a school district, a town hall and police and fire services with Short Hills, an even leafier and greener enclave and home of the infamous Short Hills Mall. Springsteen’s characters – and even Springsteen himself – were the kind of guys who pumped gas and fixed cars and cut grass in my town, but that never gave me and my friends even the slightest pause in the pursuit of our obsession. Born In The U.S.A. held us all in thrall, but we were a sophisticated congregation and had been in the chapel for years – at sweet sixteen parties throughout 1984, usually held at local country clubs, we surrounded the DJ and demanded he play Springsteen. We would form a circle and take turns dancing across its center to “Working on the Highway,” but it was “Thunder Road”, perhaps an odd choice for a sweet sixteen, that made our night – we would again stand in a circle, this time singing to each other as loud as we could for the entire song. It was exuberant and ecstatic, and I look back on those moments as some of the finest I experienced during high school; I’m still proud my friends and I, in 1984, when the world was set ablaze by Born In The U.S.A., had already memorized the lyrics to most of Born to Run. We also loved Elvis Costello, Bob Marley, the Police, the Smiths, Talking Heads, U2…we were pop music sophisticates, but our fanaticism for the Boss marked us as kids who grew up in Jersey, which meant Springsteen was ours, and we of course belonged to him. I took him with me to college, to the University of Rochester, where on a few occasions I waited until my roommates departed, then hung this weird combination detergent packet and dryer sheet thing my mom had sent me from a bungee cord I had attached to the broken light fixture on our ceiling – once I had fixed up my make shift air-recording studio, I put on side one of The River, picked up a battered racquetball racquet and started bashing along to “The Ties That Bind,” the weird combination detergent and dryer sheet thing serving as a microphone, absorbing my shout-along vocals: “You been hurt and you’re all cried out, you say!!/you walk down the street pushing people out of your way!!!/you packed your bags and all alone you wanna ride!!!” I spent the summer of 1990 in Boulder, Colorado, leaving town reluctantly that August to return home to finish school at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (I had dropped out of Rochester). My dad came out to Boulder to travel back to Jersey with me, and as we drove out of town he popped in a cassette copy of Born In The U.S.A. he had purchased just for our journey. We were going home.
Of course it’s a cliché to wonder where 25 years have gone, to declare that you never even imagined being 25 years-old, let alone 40. There are ways that Springsteen songs made me feel in the past to which I’ll never again have access. But while I can no longer avail myself of the romantic hope that “Born to Run” evoked in me, the song itself doesn’t mean any less to me, and new songs keep arriving, “I’ll Work for Your Love,” from Magic, and “Life Itself”, from Working On A Dream, that speak to what I feel now – which is my age, of course, and the sense that many of my dreams have come true, in spades, but that I have so many more in the queue and that I might not have time to get to all of them, that I will die unfinished. This is irrational, of course, but this makes it no less omnipresent. At some point we must confront our mortality – the lucky among us don’t do it until soon before it arrives, but we neurotics happen upon this confrontation earlier in our lives than perhaps we should, and we spend the rest of our lives shadow-boxing. So here I am, throwing punches.
As is Springsteen, at 59, but his punches always seem thrown in the context of title bouts, and in a world where individual albums, as currency, have lost much of their value, his records remain events, monuments and mile-markers. The kids are downloading MP3s the way we used to pop quarters into arcade games, and folks my age with similar tastes probably expect to see upcoming Springsteen releases on the counter at Starbucks. But even at 40 I am still my inviolable adolescent self, except instead of racing off to the record store when Springsteen releases a new album I’m instead running over to Borders or logging in at Amazon to order it.
Listening to Magic, one heard the bitter whispers of everything that had gone wrong since September 11th, the despair and rage we all felt as the drive toward the Gulf War succeeded, when we learned of the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, after we learned how the Bush administration treated our returning war veterans…the record spoke to its times in much the same way The Rising spoke to us in 2002. With Working On A Dream, Springsteen has returned to the terrain of albums such as Tunnel Of Love, Human Touch and Lucky Town, albums that chart romantic relationships. This record is closer to Human Touch and Lucky Town, with its celebration of marriage, than it is to the elegiac Tunnel of Love, which, released during Springsteen’s brief marriage to Julianne Phillips, bristled with doubt and longing.
Reduced to its simplest themes, Working On A Dream is the 59 year-old Springsteen’s celebration of his marriage as he approaches the final quarter of his life. The chorus of “This Life” sums this up: “this life/this life and then the next/with you I have been blessed/what more can you expect.” Much of the record is a profession of love, particularly in the context of a lengthy marriage between two people reaching the end of middle age. “And I count my blessings that you’re mine for always/We laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays…my darling we’ll sing away,” Springsteen sings in the somewhat majestic “Kingdom of Days”; toward the end of “Life Itself”, he confesses, “life itself in your heart and in your eyes/I can’t make it without you”.
It’s a lovely record, both in its sentiment and its melodiousness, but the temptation with Working On A Dream is to compare it to the superior Magic. The album expands on the Sixties pop that found its way to Magic, but that album worked so well because it was a return to fundamentals, a hard-rocking Springsteen record more similar to The River than to The Rising, heavy on guitar and suffused with the E Street Band’s classic Jersey Shore bar band sound. Magic featured plenty of Clarence Clemons’s sax, which isn’t as prominent on Working On A Dream.
The Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Byrds, CCR and the Left Banke are of course core Springsteen influences. They are secondary elements on Magic, however, whereas they overwhelm much of Working On A Dream; the Sixties pop sensibility which forms much of the album’s architecture feels forced – it’s a lightness that doesn’t come easy to the E Street band, and at times it sounds like they’ve been handcuffed. This is particularly true of the album’s rhythm – the E Street Band has always found a way to swing, from “Spirit in the Night” to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” to “The Ties That Bind” to “Mary’s Place” to “Livin’ In the Future”, but bassist Gary Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg seem as if they’ve been hamstrung, permitted to cut loose only on “Let Me Show You What Love Can Do.”
“Girls in Their Summer Clothes”, from Magic, wasn’t the strongest song on the record, but it was Springsteen’s version of “God Only Knows” and a unique moment on a very strong record, much like “Worlds Apart” on The Rising. “Your Own Worst Enemy” was also a tribute to the Beach Boys, but Springsteen’s application of Brian Wilson’s intricate pop sweetness never impedes the song’s propulsion nor brightens its darkness. On Working On A Dream, Springsteen’s pure pop aspirations overwhelm the album – with the exception of “Life Itself”, “Good Eye”, “Outlaw Pete” and “What Love Can Do”, Springsteen’s chamber pop ambitions drain the record of real vigor and render it soft, rather than haunting – it seems the sleigh bells of Born to Run have been traded for triangles. It’s a bit like asking Philip Roth to write a collection of love poems; if you wield a mighty hammer, why reach for a knitting needle?
There are many brilliant moments here, particularly “Life Itself”, which references the Byrds and a few Stephen Stills guitar solos circa Crosby, Still & Nash. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the album’s Woody Guthrie number, while “The Last Carnival”, which references “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” from The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, sounds like “Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks, but with backing vocals lifted from a Cat Stevens record. “Good Eye” is a honking blues track that sounds like a harder version of “The Big Muddy” and “Souls of the Departed” from Lucky Town, while “Working on a Dream” is a Roy Orbison tribute, mining Orbison’s “You Got It,” from the Jeff Lynne–produced Mystery Girl, right down to Springsteen’s Orbison vocal and the chiming acoustic guitars. “Outlaw Pete” is a charming Western rocker that tells the story of the “legendary” Outlaw Pete: “He was born a little baby on the Appalachian Trail/At six months old he’d done three months in jail/He robbed a bank in his diapers and little bare baby feet/All he said was ‘Folks my name is Outlaw Pete’” – it’s Springsteen’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. The two darkest songs on Working On A Dream, “What Love Can Do” and “Life Itself”, are also the album’s strongest, recalling “Last to Die” and “Gypsy Biker” from Magic, while “Lucky Day” is a rollicking pop song in the vein of Seventies-era Stones.
Yet, ultimately, Working On A Dream sounds like the after-effect of Magic, and it lacks that album’s mix of force and nimbleness. “Queen of the Supermarket” sounds like a syrupy, poorly crafted version of “I’ll Work For Your Love” – one of the best songs on Magic – or a discard from Human Touch. “I’ll Work For Your Love” begins with the piano from “Thunder Road” and blasts into a classic Springsteen devotional: “And I’ll watch the bones in your back like the stations of the cross…I watch you slip that comb through your hair and this I’ll promise you/I’ll work for your love, dear/I’ll work for your love…” Compare this to “The Queen of the Supermarket”, a piano-driven ballad built on Beatlesque background harmonies and Springsteen singing urgently near his higher registers, but perhaps the most flaccid song he’s ever written: “With my shopping cart I move through the heart/Of a sea of fools so blissfully unaware/That they’re in the presence of something wonderful and rare/The way she moves behind the counter/Beneath her white aprons her secrets remain hers/As she bags the groceries, her eyes so bored/And sure she is unobserved…” “I’ll Work For Your Love” is a roaring declaration of love, while “Queen of the Supermarket” is its voyeuristic weak sister. Toward the end of the song Springsteen sings, “And I’m lifted up, lifted up…” as if trying to bring the song to the sort of crescendos that so effortlessly
arrived throughout much of The Rising.
“Queen of the Supermarket,” and “Outlaw Pete” suffer from the poor phrasing that marred The Ghost of Tom Joad – the lines are too long for the music, the meter is off, there’s something forced…every song is a mouthful. While Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle and Born to Run demonstrated the kind of phrasing which Sinatra must have envied, there have been occasions since Lucky Town where we’ve seen Springsteen battle to hammer his themes into cumbersome lyrics that betray the phrasing which seemed effortless on his earlier albums – think of the wordplay throughout Greetings From Asbury Park – and even as recently as The Rising and Magic.
Working On A Dream is another of these occasions. While the lyrics on Magic were taut and often chilling, they tend to sprawl on Working On A Dream, particularly on “Kingdom of Days” (“the wet grass on our backs as the autumn breeze drifts through the trees”) and “The Last Carnival” (“a million stars shining above us like every soul living and dead/has been gathered together by a God to sing a hymn over your bones”). “The Wrestler”, which Springsteen wrote for Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 film, is one of his most moving songs, particularly when Springsteen sings, “then you’ve seen me/I come and stand at every door/then you’ve seen me/I always leave with less than I’ve had before”. It’s an anthem for the beaten, but from the opening line it’s evident we’re not in the company of the same lyricist who wrote Greetings From Asbury Park, The River and The Rising: “have you ever seen a one-legged dog makin’ his way down the street/if you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me…” How does a one-legged dog make his way down the street? Did Springsteen mean a three-legged dog? How did the author of such lyrics as, “the screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves/like a vision she dances across the porch as a radio plays” (“Thunder Road”) and “well I was young and I didn’t know what to do/when I saw your best steps stolen away from you” (“Walk Like A Man”) and “…kids asleep in the backseat/we’re just counting the miles, you and me/we don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore/we just stack the bodies outside the door…who’ll be the last to die for a mistake” (“Last to Die”) stumble into such carelessness?
Beginning with Tunnel of Love, Springsteen began to build his lyrics with symbolic images of a more universal nature, such as those taken from the American West, carnivals and gypsies, Christianity and gambling (as a simple representation of chance and luck). While many fans consider Nebraska Springsteen’s first foray into Country, it was Tunnel of Love that actually blended Springsteen’s love of Country with his pop sensibility, and the more he leans toward Country & Western, the more prominent these images become, the more they form the flesh and bones of his lyrics. For example, the narrator of the beautiful “Valentine’s Day” from Tunnel Of Love tells us, “a friend of mine became a father last night/when we spoke in his voice I could hear the light/of the skies and the rivers/the timber wolf in the pines/and that great jukebox out on Route 39…”, This change in Springsteen’s lyrics reached its apex on his two Southern California albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, which are peppered with lines like “I’ll be your gypsy joker” (“Soul Driver”); “now my ass was draggin’ when from a passin’ gypsy wagon/your heart like a diamond shone/tonight I’m layin’ in your arms carvin’ lucky charms/out of these hard luck bones (“Better Days”); “and if we turn the right cards up/they make us boss/the devil pays off” (“Local Hero”); “now there’s a beautiful river/in the valley ahead/there ‘neath the oak’s bow/soon we will be wed” (“If I Should Fall Behind”); “…your body was the holy land…now you were the Red Sea, I was Moses…” (“Leap of Faith”); and “I went down into the desert city/just tryin’ so hard to shed my skin…” (“Living Proof”). In 1995 Springsteen released his first hits compilation, Greatest Hits, which included “This Hard Land” and the following verse: “…I can hear a tape deck blastin’ ‘Home on the Range’/I can see them Bar-M choppers/Sweepin’ low across the plains/It’s me and you, Frank, we’re lookin’ for lost cattle/Our hooves twistin’ and churnin’ up the sand/we’re ridin’ in the whirlwind searchin’ for lost treasure/Way down south of the Rio Grande…” The Ghost of Tom Joad, also released in 1995, is largely set in a Recession-era American West, home to “little desert motels” (“Highway 29”) Fresno methamphetamine labs (“Sinaloa Cowboys”) and an Appaloosa “kickin’ in the corral” (“Dry Lightning”).
Of course these images have been present in Springsteen’s work since The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – during “Rosalita”, the narrator tells Rosalita he knows “a pretty little place in Southern California down San Diego way…”; “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” also appears on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, and “The Promised Land” from Darkness On The Edge Of Town begins, “on a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert…” But it is the images Springsteen draws from his life in New Jersey, in the early Seventies, that make Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Born to Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town so literate, so specific and so thrilling. On these early albums, “Spanish Johnny” drives in from the underworld (“Incident on 57th Street”), “sparks fly on E Street when the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot” (The E Street Shuffle”) and “Mary Lou she found out how to cope/she rides to heaven on a gyroscope/the Daily News asks her for the dope…” (“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”). These early songs are living, twitching, exuberant things and, wedded to the operatic arrangements of Born to Run, they became something that still shimmers in its perfection: “there were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away/they haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets” (“Thunder Road”); “from a tenement window a transistor blares/turn around the corner things got real quiet real fast/I walked into a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”), and, of course, “sprung from cages on Highway 9/chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and steppin’ out over the line/baby this town rips the bones from your back…” (“Born to Run”). What does “south of the Rio Grande” mean to someone from New Jersey who’s actually driven along Highway 9, which passes through Freehold, Springsteen’s hometown? While I’m not opposed to the desert vistas and gypsy wagons with which Springsteen tells his stories, it was astonishing and thrilling when the mythology was less universal and more specific, such as it is in these lines from “Jungleland”: “they’ll meet ‘neath that giant Exxon sign/that brings this fair city light/man there’s an opera out on the Turnpike/there’s a ballet being fought out in the alley”. No one, not even Dylan, has ever written anything like it.
Springsteen has reinvented himself and his sound throughout his career, much like contemporaries Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Paul Simon and Neil Young; his attempts have been far less drastic than those of Mitchell, Simon and Young, however, and his body of work seems unified, sonically and thematically, which brings him closer to Dylan and Prince, in terms of a cohesive body of work. Pioneering, however, has been crucial to Springsteen’s development as an artist and icon, and most of his albums have been outright surprises, particularly Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, The Ghost of Tom Joad, The Rising and We Shall Overcome: each seems a measured and sometimes extraordinary step away from its predecessor.
Nebraska was stark and startling, arriving after The River, a double album that mixed cautionary, mournful, somber ballads with raucous Jersey Shore rave-ups. Nebraska, not The River, is the album that follows the nostalgia and desperation of Darkness on the Edge of Town – Nebraska stripped the hard rock from Darkness but mined that album’s terrain of bitter nostalgia, desperation, and regret. Nebraska was successful as a folk or country album because it was a Springsteen album, one simply gutted of Springsteen’s trademark hard rock and bar band soul.
The failure of albums such as The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust and, to a lesser extent, Working On A Dream, is that they seem driven toward ideas, rather than by them: this is a folk record about American desperation in the Southwest circa 1995 inspired by the film version of The Grapes of Wrath, this is an album loosely built around the occupation and devastation of Iraq…The Rising and Magic work so well, and are so immediate, because although the former is steeped in the aftermath of September 11th and the latter in the corruption, deception and rapacity endemic to the presidency of George W. Bush, each album is a collection of magnificent songs that boil up to the surface, rather than a collection of songs shoehorned into an overriding concept. These albums also work because they are E Street Band albums punctuated by or painted with elements selected from outside the band’s bar band milieu and blended with it, and because the songs on these albums sound like classic Springsteen. There’s no “Mary’s Place” on The Ghost of Tom Joad, nor does a song like “Last to Die” emerge from Devils & Dust.
I’ve spent some time recently watching Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75, which is included in the Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition box – it feels like watching a soul revue as staged by a scrappy, scruffy kid from the Jersey Shore with the ability to channel Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Little Richard. Springsteen took the screaming exuberance and youthful hope of everything rock n’roll set out to do in the Fifties and Sixties – and everything it did, accidentally or inadvertently – and made it his personal journey, his cross to bear, his sword and his shield, and ours. During Wings for Wheels, The Making of Born to Run, Springsteen talks about B movies, Thunder Road (the Robert Mitchum film, from 1958), of missed chances and crucibles, of varied experiences of light and darkness. This makes perfect sense, as he has created the most cinematic oeuvre in popular music. Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, especially, feel like films, as do Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – even The Ghost of Tom Joad, initially inspired by the film version of The Grapes of Wrath, achieves this unique effect.
What’s funny and sad about Springsteen – with albums such as The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust, We Shall Overcome, and a number of songs from Working On A Dream – is it seems he’s trying to secure his place in American music as a latter day Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger or Hank Williams, that he’s trying to stitch his songs into some great American folk tradition, to write songs that ultimately become part of our collectivememory, part of our vernacular, much like Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”. What’s ironic is, he’s already done it, time and time again, and songs such as “Atlantic City”, “Born to Run”, “Hungry Heart”, “Lonesome Day”, “My City of Ruins”, “The River”, “Spirit in the Night”, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” are just a few examples. The segment of the great American songbook for which Springsteen is responsible is a monolithic tower on our land, and this has little to do with the dustbowl ballads and folk anthems he’s written since the commercial and critical failure of Human Touch and Lucky Town. Springsteen has become one of the pillars of American popular music. He is rock n’ roll.
How is it that Springsteen’s songs manage to incite and quell my homesickness simultaneously? “Spirit in the Night” still makes me want to drink, smoke and dance, even though I no longer partake in the first two and rarely in the third, and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” still makes me feel unbeatable, even though I’ve been beaten so many times. Springsteen’s exuberance has never failed me; his empathy has comforted me for a quarter-century: “I said, I’m hurt, she said, honey, let me heal it.” Some of these songs are four-minute parties, some of them are four-minute elegies, and I would venture that all of them are almost as deeply felt by Springsteen’s fans as they are by Springsteen.
I’ve often wondered if, as I grow older, my fever for Springsteen – and my fever for music itself – might break. That certain songs might lose the intensity of their meaning for me. What use should I have, at 40, for “Growin’ Up” or “Night” or “Prove It All Night” or “No Surrender”? The truth is I find I need them more than ever. These songs remain the secret rooms in which I have lived since boyhood, the secret rooms where I am still my inviolable adolescent self. The secret rooms where I am still consoled and galvanized by Springsteen’s voice. Where I remain, as always, transfixed by his cinema.
So it’s Valentine’s Day, again. Just when you’ve recovered from the double whammy of Christmas and New Year’s, here it comes, slinking into town, all red and ready. Of course you could reach for something in your usual arsenal of candlelight dinners, long-stemmed roses and frilly knickers. Or you could meet the holiday head-on and let British Airways take you and your beloved to one of its 550 worldwide destinations for the ultimate Valentine’s Day getaway.
Any travel on British Airways from Heathrow starts in the airline’s exclusive new home, Terminal 5. Spoil your Valentine with some pre-flight shopping at Christian Dior, Harrods, Kurt Geiger or Prada, then pamper yourself and your date with a visit to the Elemis Travel Spa. Toast the beginning of your adventure with complimentary champagne and wine at Silver Bar in the Gallery lounges. How about breakfast at Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food; the menu, based on Ramsay’s famous Boxwood café, includes such delights as brioche French toast, treacle cured bacon and maple syrup and rare roast beef, foie gras, truffle mayonnaise, toasted poilane and plum tomato sandwiches.
So what’ll it be this year? Are you going to dust off all that Sinatra vinyl and hope you don’t overcook the pasta, again? Or are you going to try something truly different? As Frankie put it so emphatically, “Let’s fly away!” British Airways has some ideas for you.
Love, Rainforest O’er Me – Mountain Biking in Mauritius
Love, as we know, can be quite a challenge. Why not grab it by the handlebars for the most challenging Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had? A mountain bike excursion through Le Nicolière, in northern Mauritius, may bring you face to face with deer and monkeys, and even bats, should you choose to ride in the afternoon. Or start from a village in Savanne, the island’s southernmost district, and try climbing Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire: at 828 meters it’s the highest point on Mauritius and may very well be the most exhilarating romantic outing you’ve ever had.
While the island’s volcanic hills offer challenging climbs to experienced cyclists, those looking for more relaxing rides will find gentler grades throughout the island’s coastal plain and near its sugar-sand beaches.
Want to take a break from the saddle? Try a few hikes in Black River Gorges, a national park covering more than 6,500 hectares. Bookmauritius and Mauritius-Rodrigues can get you rolling even before you arrive.
Surfin’ Safari – Cape Town!
Valentine’s Day is a summer holiday in Cape Town, so leave the gloves and scarves at home – average temperatures fluctuate between 15° and 27°, and February in Cape Town offers visitors about 14 hours of sunlight per day, most of which you should spend on the beach.
Why not learn how to surf this Valentine’s? South Africa is one of the world’s premier surfing destinations. There are innumerable beaches in the vicinity of Cape Town, along the Atlantic Coast and on the Indian Ocean, which are suitable for surfers of all levels, including Blouberg, where you can surf with a view of Table Mountain. There are a number of surf schools in Cape Town, including Downhill Adventures and Gary’s Surf School, in Muizenberg.
Should the surf go flat, spend the day hiking in Table Mountain National Park. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but hiking at altitude will certainly make it pound. Once you’ve hiked up an appetite, try Africa Café, a Cape Town restaurant with dishes inspired by South Africa’s three major indigenous cultures, Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu.
Baby, it’s Cold Outside…Especially in Oslo
Why not spend this Valentine’s Day walking in a Nordic winter wonderland? For those inspired and intrepid travellers who find hotter climes anathema to adventures amorous and otherwise, we give you…Oslo! British Airways flies direct to Oslo from Heathrow once daily, but for this Valentine’s Day excursion you’ll need your parka and your thermal underwear – average February temperatures in Oslo rarely crack 0°, so make sure you and your date bundle up – really bundle up.
Okay, ready to wander? Don’t miss the new opera house and Vigeland Sculpture Park. If you’re uncertain about navigating on your own, the Oslo Guidebureau hosts daily walks throughout the city all winter long. If you want to take a break from all that walking – and do a little gliding – try Narvisen Skating Rink in Oslo city centre. You could also hire a romantic horse-drawn carriage, or pick up an Oslo Pass, which gives you free travel on all public transport and free entry to 33 museums. And if you can’t imagine spending time in Scandinavia without putting on a pair of skis or stepping onto a snowboard, Tryvann Vinterpark, Oslo’s main ski resort is only 30 minutes from downtown. Finally, after all this frosty activity, treat yourself and your Valentine to an afternoon at Artesia Spa or a massage at Dragonfly Therapeutic Retreat.
Get on the Good Foot – Tango ‘til Dawn in Buenos Aires
It’s Valentine’s Day, and what else is dancing, but making love set to music? Buenos Aires is one of the world’s most elegant and romantic capitals, a 21st century bohemia bristling with cafes, galleries, nightclubs, restaurants and swank hotels – there’s a direct British Airways flight from Heathrow everyday.
Born in the brothels of Buenos Aires, the Tango must be performed by a couple; it requires a dancer to move his or her foot with every musical note. Why not learn this torrid art form with the one you love? The Centro Cultural Torcuato Tasso offers inexpensive tango lessons everyday, as does Club Gricel, while El Arranque offers lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Such passionate dancing will require sufficient fortification. Why not treat your Valentine to grass-fed beef straight from the Pampas at Cabaña las Lilas, perhaps one of the best parrillas (grills) in Buenos Aires.
Come Fly with Me – Trust Your Valentine’s Getaway to British Airways
British Airways flies direct from London to Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Mauritius and Oslo. As one of the world’s longest-established airlines, with nine decades in the air, you can trust British Airways to fly you in style and comfort, to serve you and your Valentine stellar meals, to help you arrange first class hotels and car rentals…everything you need for the perfect, most memorable Valentine’s you’ve ever had. If you’re looking to further dazzle your date, British Airway’s “Upgrade Before You Fly” option is available at ba.com during online check-in on certain routes – bump up from Euro Traveller to Club Europe or from World Traveller to World Traveller Plus or Club World.
Wherever in the world you choose to roam this year, your holidays are precious. Life is short, which means you should travel often. But you should also travel well. Visit ba.com.
The county of Wiltshire, located in the southwest of England between Bristol and London, is home to Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle that rises from Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire is also home to Wiltshire College, one of the larger colleges in the UK. Founded in 2000, the college merged with Salisbury College in 2008 and is the main provider of further and higher education in Wiltshire. Today, 3,300 full-time students, 6,000 part-time students and 900 University Level students attend Wiltshire College at its four campuses – Chippenham, Lackham, Salisbury, and Trowbridge. Its reputation for quality provision, innovation and student care is without par. The college recently installed 3CX Phone System, linking all four of its campuses and more than 1,000 extensions. The result, in addition to a unified, efficient and scalable communications infrastructure, is reduced running telephony costs of £70,000 per year.
Rolling Everything into Place
In bringing together four constituent colleges, each with its own telephone system (three Siemens ISDX systems and one Avaya Index), and approximately 1,000 employees , Wiltshire College needed to create a unified, scalable communications infrastructure, one to which it could add more advanced features and functionality over time. The college wanted a high-quality, cost-effective, scalable system, one that would free it from the kind of expensive service contracts endemic to hardware-based PBX systems. While not nearly as ancient as Stonehenge, the systems in place at each of the four colleges were old, lacked modern features, and required expensive external maintenance.
The new phone system had to be robust, simple to install and easy to administer from a central location. The college required a number of core telephony services, including call pickup, call forwarding, queues, group ringing, hunt groups, presence, auto attendant, inbound and outbound call routing, a softphone option and call logging and reporting. Most importantly, the new phone system had to connect more than 1,000 extensions. Wiltshire College ICT support staff would ultimately manage the system, thus its interface had to enable the simple day-to-day telephony tasks such as adding new extensions, staff relocations, routing rules and voicemail without having to pay expensive call out fees to a PBX specialist. The PBX also had to accommodate college offices where part-time staff members share a single phone. Finally, the college needed to be able to add advanced features to the phone system at a later date, including on-screen call control, conference calls, call recording, hot-desking, CRM integration and mobile phone integration.
No Heavy Lifting
According to archeologists, the most dramatic stage of the construction of Stonehenge began sometime around 2150 BC, when some 82 bluestones from Wales were brought to Salisbury Plain. Installing 3CX Phone System at Wiltshire College, about 4,200 years after the arrival of these magnificent stones, required a lot less heavy lifting.
Following a formal tender process the contract was finally awarded in February 2012 to 3CX Certified Partner [http://www.3cx.com/blog/news/new-video-training-course/] TRI-LAN I.T. Limited, which had proposed 3CX Phone System. Wiltshire College found 3CX Phone System to be feature-rich and cost effective. The college’s ICT team appreciated the system’s flexibility, and that 3CX Phone System is Windows-based and runs on existing hardware: Wiltshire College is a Microsoft site, and its staff is trained on Windows. 3CX Phone System proved three times cheaper than any other telephony option the college considered.
TRI-LAN provides IT business systems and services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The company maintains offices in Devon and Reading, which puts Wiltshire College smack in the middle of its service area. TRI-LAN was responsible for all software installation and configuration at the college, together with all ISDN gateway installations, while the Wiltshire College ICT team carried out the physical rollout of 650 Grandstream GXP-1405 handsets; these SIP phones supported a number of key features, including dual 10/100, PoE, display, system directory, history, headset, speaker-phone, message waiting indicator and conference calls.
On the evening of 20 April, all external Wiltshire College primary rate lines were decommissioned from the old PBX switches and connected to new Patton ISDN-SIP gateways, and 3CX Phone System went live. The total changeover only took two hours. Once tested, the system proved stable. Following further testing and monitoring the following morning, the system remained fully functional, and 3CX Phone System immediately became, much like Stonehenge, a permanent fixture in Wiltshire.
A Stunning Monument to Software-based Telephony
3CX Phone System has performed flawlessly since installation on a Microsoft Hyper-V virtual server. The system has helped the college reduce its phone related IT costs by 70 percent, particularly its telephony maintenance expenditure and set up costs for new extensions. 3CX Phone System has made Wiltshire College staff more accessible, both to students and to each other, as call queue management has improved significantly. There is now tighter integration between the four campuses – with 3CXPhone for Android and iPhones (smartphone apps and full desktop phone replacements that allow users to make phone calls via WiFi and 3G), travelling staff can now login at multiple locations, including from home. The college can also take advantage of IP based SIP Trunk connectivity to replace its traditional ISDN lines – this method of providing external voice connectivity means exceptionally large savings.
The Wiltshire College team particularly appreciates the 3CX Call Center Module, which provides the college with advanced real time queue strategies, advanced agent statistics, Call-Back, SLA alerts, and other professional call centre features at a fraction of the fees charged by traditional call centres. The 3CX Call Center Module also lets the college monitor calls, manage workflow and track how many staff members are logged into the phone system at any one time.
Since the installation of 3CX Phone System in April 2012, Wiltshire College has added 75 more extensions, to make a total of 1,075, and is using around 700 phones. 3CX Phone System has processed more than 400,000 calls since its rollout – over 15,000 processed calls per week.
So, is Wiltshire College’s new telephony system a stunning monument to outstanding technological implementation, strategic planning and cost efficiency?
“3CX Phone System is proving flexible and reliable,” said Stephanie Stephenson, Director of Customer Services at Wiltshire College, “and it’s on target to reduce our ongoing telephony maintenance, line rental, support, and call costs by 70 percent per annum, about £70,000.”
Carve it in stone.
About TRI-LAN I.T. Limited
TRI-LAN I.T. Limited (TRI-LAN), a 3CX Partner, provides IT business systems and services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The company specializes in file and systems servers; 3CX Phone System installation, maintenance and support; digital CCTV surveillance based on IP networking, and Internet Service Provision (Web hosting, ADSL, SDSL EFM, Fiber and SIP (VoIP) Trunks. TRI-LAN has more than forty years’ experience supplying, configuring, installing and maintaining all major hardware and software products for its customers.
Young entrepreneurs in England looking to finance a new business should investigate the UK government’s Start-Up Loans program. Previously available only to people between the ages of 18 and 24 living in Britain, the government recently increased the age limit for applicants to 30.
Start-Up loans are available to anyone in the UK with a business in its initial phase. The average loan size is approximately £2,500, but the final amount is determined by the company’s business plan, and there is no definite limit. The Start-Up loan is a personal loan, so all of the young entrepreneurs involved in a UK start-up can apply for individual loans to invest in the company. In addition to the loan, young entrepreneurs participating in the program also receive business support and mentoring, regardless of where the company is in its business cycle.
If you’re going to start your own company, you’ll want to create a professional, functional website; it’s your company’s public presence and the best way to attract customers. You have to build a great website, one that will capture visitors and convert them into customers, one that offers complete information about your company and, if necessary, enables transactions. In today’s hyper-competitive, wired business environment, chances are you’ll have a website before you have an office. According to Glenn Shoosmith, in his 19 October 2012 article for The Guardian, “Why your business needs a website”:
Harnessing the web as a business tool is important, even for businesses that may consider themselves as primarily offline. Beauty businesses, fitness businesses, plumbers, driving instructors and any number of other service businesses ultimately all measure success by their ability to build offline relationships – and the web can play a huge part in that. So no matter how established your business is offline, it’s crucial to get the basics of online in place.
As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll have big budgets, staff or free personnel hours to invest in a complex online strategy, but there are certainly some simple steps you can take to start reaping the rewards the Web can bring.
Of course, once you get “the basics of online in place,” you must protect your website from hackers and malware. This maxim applies to every company, from your fledgling start-up to Fortune 500 enterprises. Every day more than 30,000 websites, most of them belonging to SMEs, are infected with some type of malware. Hackers hunt for vulnerabilities and use them to breach your website. Once your site is compromised, your sensitive corporate data soon follows.
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Day One – Morning
It’s a thrill when the ship’s horn blasts and the Olympia pulls away from her dock in Piraeus and begins her restrained, steady progress across the harbor. Even here, barely out of port, the blue before and beyond us is staggering, glazed with a sunlight more brilliant than any I’ve seen before. This part of the Mediterranean has been traversed for millennia. By now these routes have seen millions of passengers – sailors, soldiers, fishermen, merchants, crusaders, pleasure-seekers…today, however, the surface of the sea looks brand new, a shimmering gift, a mirror held up to the sun, which seems to pause a bit, high above us in the azure Grecian sky. An invitation. My wife and I climb the stairs to Deck 9 and stand at the prow. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this breeze all summer.
“This is perfect!” my wife says. “I could sleep up here!”
We park ourselves at a table near the Pool Grill and wait for it to open. We’re pretty beat up after a rather overheated morning spent racing from Venizelos Airport to Piraeus, but we’re not too tired to pull two chairs up to one of the windows and slide it open. Either on Deck 9 or below, it doesn’t matter, that breeze is still miraculous. I watch a gull glide beneath the bow of the ship, inches above the surface of the water. I feel like a clock that’s let itself stop for a moment. I look over at my wife and she smiles.
“You look like a kid,” she says. Like the Olympia Daily News says, happy cruising. I ask my wife what she wants to do before we arrive at Mykonos.
“There’s aqua-aerobics at 2:00 pm, and at 2:30 you have a choice, an origami lesson or a Greek language lesson. There’s also a Greek mythology quiz at 3:30.”
“Let’s start with lunch,” my wife says, and we do. It’s perfect. I treat myself to a double cheddar cheeseburger with slices of fresh tomato as red as strawberries while my wife tucks into a plate she’s piled with salads and fresh bread. We sit beside our open window, accompanied by our breeze and a selection of songs played by a guitarist and a keyboardist who have set up between the buffet and the pool – they play The Beatles, Jobim, Bob Marley…it’s a perfect summer vacation soundtrack. I order a cold Mythos, a Greek lager I’ve never tried before, and it’s delicious, cold and smooth. We stuff ourselves and stumble off to our cozy cabin on Deck 5, where our window looks out to the sea. We sleep through some of the exquisite, sunny miles between Piraeus and Mykonos, which means, unfortunately, that we miss a Zumba class, a cocktail demonstration and Name That Tune in the Oklahoma Lounge. I wish we could do it all.
Day One – Evening
I wake before my wife and sneak over to Sana Spa and Beauty Salon, which is between the Fiesta Casino and the Oklahoma Lounge. There’s a fifteen percent discount today on all spa services, including massages, and I hand over my magnetic card to the lovely girl at the desk and purchase a 20 minute massage for my wife. I can use the card for everything – drinks, snacks and toiletries in the shop next door to the Duty Free Shop, to purchase portraits…there’s actually a professional photographer on board.
The Olympia is a grande dame, regal and charming. Some of the larger cruise ships seem like floating cities, but this feels like a floating hotel – it reminds me of some of the places I stayed with my parents when I was a kid, mirrored elevators and the quiet roar of a vacuum cleaner from somewhere down a carpeted hallway. The wooden decks and railings evoke the glamour and grandeur of a bygone era, when you booked passage on a steamship, when travel was elegant and luxurious, something beyond the everyday. That’s how it feels on the Olympia – singular.
When I get back to the cabin my wife is awake, unpacking our clothes. It’s amazing we’ll visit six islands, but we only have to unpack once.
“Where’ve you been?” she asks me.
“Why don’t you pop up to Sana and find out?”
“You’re kidding!” She kisses me. “Can I shower? Do I have enough time? When do we land at Mykonos?” Yes, yes and yes, I tell her. She jumps into the shower while I finish unpacking. “The water pressure is fantastic!” she calls from the bathroom.
The cocktail of the day is a Mediterranean Greek Mojito, which is Skinos, soda, basil and lemon wedges, and I am again standing on the prow of the ship, now with a Mediterranean Greek Mojito in each hand, waiting for my wife to join me as we approach Mykonos. She walks toward me looking refreshed and lovely. She takes her mojito.
“I feel like a different person,” she says. We sip our drinks and watch the Olympia dock. The island is splendid, bare rock save for the white buildings climbing the hills like steps. From the deck they are bright and brittle icons, daring to defy the sun which, even at 6:00 pm, seems to drench every inch of the world. We disembark and board the bus to Mykonos Town as scooters zip by us and up the hills.
How can a place visited by so many people be so quiet? We find a small taverna on the outskirts of town right on the water with a view of the harbor and the setting sun, which turns a fleshly pink as it bids us “kali nichta” and disappears into the sea. On the small beach beside the taverna, within arm’s length of our table, I find a few pieces of beach glass. I used to collect it when I was a kid, walking along the beach with my mom, and I remember a line from ee cummings, “it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.” After a plate of grilled octopus, we leave the taverna and stroll toward the center of town, where it seems a magic switch has been flicked and every light has come up at once. My wife and I walk the narrow streets, past shoebox ice cream parlors and jewelers, beneath boughs of bougainvillea, then along the placid harbor and back to the buses, the final pink sheen of sunset fading from the surface of the sea.
We return to the Olympia so tired we are bleary. Our bed has been turned down, and our pool towels have been folded into the shape of a lily. Our bathroom is spotless and now home to a small platoon of shampoos, bath gels and skin creams standing in formation beside our sink. Even the end of each roll of toilet paper has been folded into a triangle, like a sail, and tucked beneath the bottom of the roll. Kali nichta.
Day Two – Morning
These guys are serious about showing us everything. We’re up at 6:30 am to shower and dress – we have to be in the Can Can Lounge by 7:10 am. “I love this shower!” my wife says in the bathroom. “The water is so hot!” I sit up in bed and look out the window – blue sky, blue sea. I’m reminded of a poem by Cavafy, the great Greek poet, “Morning Sea”: “Here let me stop. Let me too look at nature…the morning sea and cloudless sky.” We arrive at Kusadasi, on the Turkish coast, within the hour.
Today’s Daily News has already been slipped under our door. It includes a concise description of each excursion, the schedule for the gym, the pool, the sauna, the hours for each restaurant and every activity on the ship between 7:10 am and midnight (Latin line dancing in the Oklahoma Lounge). I’m starting to feel torn between the excursions and the onboard activities, and we’ve barely been at sea for 24 hours. Today there’s an afternoon tea at 4:00 pm, and the recipe of the day is spanakopita – I’m saving all of the recipes, so my wife and I can attempt them back home. We are of course going to try to make it to the Greek cooking demonstration in the Lido Bar, at 1:45, but there’s also a 2:00 pm Greek Dance class in the Oklahoma Lounge. Since we’re off to Ephesus, once the mightiest city in Asia Minor, we won’t be able to participate in the 9:00 am walkathon, on Deck 9, nor will we be able to make it to “Wake-Up and Stretch” in the Oklahoma Lounge. Our excursion to Patmos, to see the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John, begins at 4:15 pm, so we have some time on the ship this afternoon. My plan is to send my wife to the Greek Cooking demonstration while I sneak off to the Clipper Bar for Team Trivia and an ice-cold Mythos, my new favorite lager.
We leave the room with just enough time to pick up some “Grab & Go” coffee at the Clipper Bar. Our cabin steward and stewardess, who seem to be patrolling our hallway at all hours of the day and night, greet us with a bright “kalimera!” I have no idea how anyone can be so sunny and genuinely cheery at this hour, especially since they’ve probably been up since dawn.
We sit down with our coffees on a banquette in the Can Can Lounge and await our bus assignments. The Shore Excursion team has the entire disembarkation process completely organized, and we soon descend to Deck 1 to get on our buses to Ephesus. It’s another glorious morning.
Kusadasi is a lovely little beach town. It seems to be rousing itself from sleep as we drive away from the port toward Ephesus. My wife turns to me and says, “I can’t believe we’re in Turkey.” It’s the first time we’ve ever set foot in Asia.
Ephesus is a stunning marvel in the hills above the Aegean coast. It was founded by the ancient Greeks and became the first and most significant city in the Roman province of Asia and one of its key ports. At one time home to a quarter-million people, it is believed the Virgin Mary lived and died here, and that Paul wrote his Corinthian letters here. Millennia ago the Aegean receded west, stranding the city on its sun-seared hillsides.
Our guide, an affable, charming local, does his best to keep us in the shade as much as possible as we begin our tour. Many of the city’s columns are still standing, as are the terrace houses and the magnificent Library of Celsus which, along with the 25,000-seat amphitheater built by the Greeks, is the centerpiece of the site. We stroll down the Arcadian road through the center of the city; we run our fingers over the ancient Greek inscriptions on the columns as we pass.
In the Terrace Houses we climb every staircase to the top of the structure, stopping to peer agape into homes from centuries ago – the mosaic of a lion on the floor of one of the houses, still in perfect condition, is worth every flight of steps. From the Terrace Houses we approach the Library. We climb the stairs and spend some time inside the structure, for a bit of shade and to wonder at how so much of it – including its façade, two stories of columns – has remained intact for so many centuries. I have never seen anything like this, with the exception of the Coliseum, the Forum and the Parthenon – these are the only ruins that rival Ephesus, in terms of scale and preservation. I am again reminded of Cavafy: “If there’s something more you seek, then simply look. The city is our teacher, the acme of what is Greek, of every discipline, of every art the peak.”
Day Two – Afternoon
Welcome to the Dodecanese. I hate to leave the air conditioned splendor of the Olympia, but we are now on our way to Patmos to visit the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John, both important pilgrimage sites, and the tender boats are waiting to take us to the port at Skala. From there our bus wends its way up the pine-blanketed mountain high above Skala, toward the Cave, where it is believed St. John, the Theologian, wrote the Book of Revelation after the risen Christ appeared to him. Looking through the rear window of our air conditioned bus, Skala occupies an isthmus connecting the two larger, mountainous segments of Patmos – you can walk east from the harbor at Skala to the beach at Hokhlakás Bay. It’s funny how Patmos, so far, has been an experience in varying scale – it appears on the horizon, massive and imposing, then shrinks to the harbor at Skala, with its quaint tavernas and cafes and souvenir kiosks, then expands again, filling the frame as our bus climbs toward the Cave. As we park and leave the bus to walk down the path toward the Cave, I think this might be a decent explanation of faith, and perhaps of love: it’s an endless variation of scale, a journey back and forth between the miniature and the immeasurable.
The Cave is at the bottom of a long, twisting stairway. It was certainly a beautiful place to write anything, even the Book of Revelations – it’s now a chapel with a view down to Skala and the sea. I’m convinced Greece is so beautiful it must be blessed, and that we humble travelers, awed by her splendor, are the lucky beneficiaries of her largesse. Regardless of our faith we are all pilgrims, here to surrender ourselves to her dazzling beauty, her pine-scented breezes, her blazing sun, the sweet blue hues of her seas…
We leave the Cave for Chora, the walled city at the island’s highest point and home to the St. John Monastery, founded by Ioannis “the Blessed” Christodoulos in 1088. We again climb, this time up a cobblestone path with a view down to Skala, past boutiques and souvenir shops and galleries toward the monastery. We enter its courtyard, which houses the Chapel of the Virgin and a museum. I walk behind the Chapel to a smaller courtyard, lured to repose for a few moments by the quiet, which has a sweetness to it.
Day Two – Evening
Tonight we finally make it to the Seven Seas, the a la carte restaurant on Deck 4. Outside the entrance there’s a small band, five members of the Olympia staff, one of them with an acoustic guitar, and they’re serenading the diners with their rendition of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” This is another thing I love about this cruise, there’s music everywhere. The maitre d’hôtel greets us with a warm “Kalispera!” and shows us to our table which, like every other table, is laid with crisp white linen and sparkling silverware and, best of all, has a view of the Aegean. My wife, a committed oenophile, picks up the wine list straightaway.
“Wow!” she says. “They have so many Greek wines, it’s amazing. They have wines from Santorini, from the Peloponnese, from western Greece, from Macedonia…let’s try the Roditis.” We have left the harbor at Skala. “I’ll read you the description.” My wife loves menus and, when ordering a dish, she likes to read the entire menu entry to our waiter or waitress. “As the name implies, this is a rose colored grape that produces an elegant dry white and light wine with citrus flavors and a pleasant aftertaste.”
“Order us two glasses,” I say. Fresh bread arrives, and glasses full of ice water, both wonderful after such a hot and hectic day. I pour some of the Greek olive oil on our table into a dish and push a piece of bread through it. It’s delicious, golden and sweet. We order our wine and open our menus. I don’t know where to start. The inside covers of the menu provide descriptions of the core ingredients of Greek cuisine and how they are used: olives and olive oil, onions and garlic, artichokes, tomatoes, eggplant and, of course, feta cheese. It turns out, according to my menu, that saffron was used by the ancient Greeks. “I’m learning something new every day.”
“What are you having? There are so many Greek dishes I’ve never had before, and they all sound delicious. I’m going to try the fasolia mavromatika.”
“What is it?” The light and healthy dishes are designated as such, and I’m planning on sailing around them. Come on, I’m on vacation.
“It’s black-eyed peas with herbs and a mint vinaigrette. For my main dish I’m going to have the psari plaki, fish fillet baked in a white wine broth topped with onion, celery and tomatoes. What about you?” I swallow a mouthful of oil-drenched bread.
“Kotopoulo Arachova!” It’s chicken stuffed with cheeses, tomatoes and herbs.
“I figured as much.”
After such an adventurous day we are ready to eat, and we do. The appetizers appear and, almost immediately after, the plates on which they arrived disappear. This might have something to do with how hungry we are, but it also seems as if there are about ten people waiting on us. My water glass is always full, more fresh bread arrives…we feel like royalty. Our main courses arrive, and we dive in.
“This is lovely,” my wife says. “I have to find this recipe online.”
“Can you find this one online, too?” My chicken is incredibly rich – it says ‘stuffed’ with cheeses in the menu, and they’re not kidding. We devour our meals. Our dessert arrives, something called “galaktoboureko,” milk and semolina pudding with zest of lemon. The maitre d’hôtel seats an American gentleman at our table, and we of course ask him where he’s from and how he’s enjoying his cruise, what he does for work. He tells us he’s just retired from his second career as a certified Lexus mechanic.
“I used to manage restaurants and nightclubs,” he tells us. “I retired and moved to Florida, but I couldn’t just sit around, so I went through the Lexus training program. At fifty!” It’s only the end of the second day, but our cruise is starting to feel like a floating party, one at which we know all the other guests.
There’s a show called “A Capella” in the Can Can Lounge at 10:00 pm featuring performances of classic Greek songs. “Disco! Disco!” starts at the same time in the Oklahoma Lounge, and there’s Latin Line Dancing at 11:30, and Happy Hour, but I just can’t do it. I’m sun-baked and stuffed like…well, like a Kotopoulo Arachova. My wife obliges me.
“It’s hard getting old,” she says. “I understand.” We return to our cabin, where our pool towels have been folded into the shape of a snake. I shuck my clothes and fall into bed. I can’t keep my eyes open.
“I love all the stories,” I mumble to my wife, and I fall asleep. We sail toward Rhodes.
Day 3 – Morning
We are gently prodded awake as the crew ties the Olympia to the dock in the harbor at Rhodes Town, which is good, since we have to be in the Can Can Lounge at 7:15 am. Another quick shower, another hot Grab & Go coffee from the Clipper Lounge, and we’re seated in the Can Can Lounge, ready to roll. Our cruise director greets us with a hearty “Kalimera!” She gives us our bus assignments, and we’re off to Deck 1 to disembark, the walled medieval city beckoning from across the harbor.
Our bus whisks us south to Lindos with our guide, another informative and gracious host. Like our previous guides, she lives here, and her knowledge of Rhodes is evident within moments of our departure. As with our other guides, it’s like she’s taking us on a tour of her home, which she is.
Ancient Lindos was one of world’s great cities, a harbor on a peninsula on the southeastern coast of Rhodes. We park and walk down to the entrance to the village of Lindos, a series of winding and, thankfully, shaded alleys that ribbon their way, seemingly without rhyme or reason, between the whitewashed walls of the village’s myriad cafes, jewelers, juice bars and t-shirt shops. Lindos is delightfully free of cars, but there are donkeys for hire, should you decide you’re not up for the climb to the Acropolis. My wife and I decide to challenge ourselves, and we hoof it up the mountain, more than 120 meters. Our guide tells us the original temple at Lindos was built in 1100 BC, but the ruins we will visit today date from the sixth century BC.
It’s a serious climb, and just before we arrive at the entrance to the Knights’ Castle we find a snack bar with a view up the coast. We take a table beneath an umbrella beside a low retaining wall. Far below us a few isolated yachts sit motionless upon the surface of the Aegean. My wife orders a frappe for herself and a fresh-squeezed orange juice for me. I take a mouthful of it and close my eyes. I listen to my wife sip her frappe, the song of the crickets beyond the wall, the soft hum of the snack bar’s freezer.
Refreshed, we tackle the innumerable steps leading up to the Temple of Athena at the summit. It’s a steep ascent, and hot, and I’m happy we have water with us. The Olympia Excursion Magazine describes the view as “breathtaking,” and I can’t disagree.
“It is breathtaking,” my wife says. As with Ephesus, it’s incredible how much of the Temple is still intact. We wander amongst the magnificent columns, down the stone staircase…we take a few moments to hide from the sun in the shadow of one of the columns, which tower into the sky, and look out at an endless sea. I wonder if the ancient Greeks felt the way up here that I do. Stilled. Unconquerable. On top of the world.
After Lindos we spend some time in the Old Town of Rhodes, where we find ourselves amidst quaint pedestrian streets lined with jewelers and ceramics shops. The main square is surrounded by busy cafes, but the side streets, where the locals live, are quiet and lightly-trafficked. We walk by an elderly woman enjoying a coffee on her veranda, and she invites us up to join her. She speaks very little English, but she pours us two strong Greek coffees and nods, again and again, as we tell her, at an ever-increasing volume, how much we love Rhodes.
We tour the Palace of the Grand Masters at the top of the Street of the Knights, Ippoton, which is home to a number of foreign consulates. My wife loves the Palace, particularly the juxtaposition of the Hellenisitic and Roman mosaics on its floors with its 18th century furniture. The massive grand staircase is dark and cool beneath a long vaulted ceiling.
“It reminds me of the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast,” my wife says. We return to the courtyard, which comprises long rows of gray squares with thick wheat-colored borders. The squares have been laid equidistantly from each other, giving the impression of a giant, somewhat monochromatic checkerboard on which the squares have paused in a synchronized separation from each other. The entire courtyard is flooded with sunlight.
We may be far more technologically advanced than our medieval forebears, but I’m not certain our world is better designed.
Day 3 – Afternoon
It’s bright and hot and we’re ready to spend some time swimming in the Aegean, as opposed to sailing upon it, and we take a cab from Rhodes Town to Tsampika for lunch and a swim. On the way, our cab driver tells us Rhodes is one of seven cities claiming to be the birthplace of Homer.
Tsampika Beach is a small crescent of sand beneath rocky sun-scorched cliffs and rolling hills. Our driver leaves us near a taverna across from the beach, where we pick up two gyros to go and some cold sodas and a bottle of water. We rent two sunbeds and an umbrella, unwrap our gyros, and settle in for a long afternoon of absolutely nothing.
The water at Tsampika is impossibly clear, a blue I’ve only seen unwrapping a hard candy, and I spend most of the afternoon simply lolling in it. My wife walks into the water and kisses me on the cheek.
“This is absolutely splendid,” she says. She looks back toward the cliffs to the north, toward the low hills behind the car park. “I love it.” I’m reminded again of Cavafy poem, “Voice From the Sea”: “The sea exhales a hidden voice – a voice that enters into our heart and gladdens it.” We spend the next few hours in the water, listening to that hidden voice, letting it gladden our hearts.
Day 3 – Evening
Just about 6:00 pm, as we’re sailing from Rhodes, we’re racing through the casino. The whole room seems to chime behind us as we roll past Sana, where the girl who booked my wife’s massage gives us a quick wave. We step into the Oklahoma Lounge for a classical concert with Stan and Yuri on piano and violin, respectively. What a perfect way to start the evening, with a cold Mythos and an hour of live, uninterrupted classical favorites. My wife orders the cocktail of the day, a Cosmopolis, which is Skinos, vodka, cranberry juice and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. The bar menu explains everything, and includes color photographs.
“I love this mastiha stuff,” she says. Unfortunately we’re missing Bingo in the Clipper Bar and “Sail-away music” with the Plug N’Play Duo on the Lido Pool Bar Deck, but you can only ride one donkey at a time.
The staff at the Seven Seas makes us feel like we’re regulars the moment we show up for dinner. The boys out front are tearing through The Beatles’ “All My Loving,” and we stop so I can harmonize with them at the chorus.
“Why don’t you try some fish, Honey,” my wife says, “since we’re at sea.” Tonight’s menu is fantastic, as expected, and includes a number of Greek dishes I’ve never tried.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m going to start with the savory boureki, move on to the Pork Gordon Blue, then I’m going to finish with Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts.” The boureki is filo dough stuffed with mince meat and chopped vegetables and deep fried, and the Pork Gordon Blue is pan fried tenderloin stuffed with Anthotyro cheese and smoked bacon!
“Why don’t you have some meat with your meat?” Our water glasses are full, again.
“Come on, Baby! I’m on vacation.” My wife smiles. She turns to the waiter, who has just set a fresh loaf of bread on our table. “Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, madam. How was your day on Rhodes?”
“I’m very happy to hear it. What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have the variety of cold Greek appetizers, tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, olives, fava and white taramosalata, followed by the Mpourdeto of Corfu, Corfu style sole fillet in a light spicy tomato and paprika sauce with the krokos kozanis rice pilaf.” Our waiter grins at my wife.
“Does it actually say all that?” he says.
“I was thinking the same thing,” I say. He laughs. “I’ll have the boureki and the pork, please,” I tell him.
“Very good, sir.” He takes our menus. My wife picks up her water glass.
“Do you think the kids are having a good time with your parents?” she asks me. I reach for another piece of bread.
“We have kids?”
After dinner we are more stuffed than bourekis. We stroll out of the Seven Seas, completely sated.
“Let’s get our picture taken,” my wife says. “Come on. We don’t have any pictures of the two of us together from this trip.” We walk over to the photographer, who’s got a small studio, replete with a backdrop and professional lighting, set up just outside the Seven Seas. He greets us with a warm smile and positions us in front of the backdrop.
“What a beautiful couple,” he says.
“That’s thanks to my gorgeous wife,” I tell him. “Without her, we’re not so easy on the eyes.”
Later, as night arrives in the Aegean, we walk up to the top deck. The waning moon glitters on the surface of the sea. We put our fingers, still wrinkled from so many hours in the water at Tsampika, to the stars.
Day 4 – Morning
Today is our final day at sea. We will spend the morning on mighty Crete, the afternoon on Santorini. It’s just after 6:00 am, God help me, and we’ve already docked in Heraklion – I have no idea how the staff does it. Why am I awake so early? We have to be in the Can Can Lounge at 7:00 am for our excursion to the Minoan Palace of Knossos, and my wife wants breakfast. I pull back the curtains and wish the sun “Kalimera.”
Writer Laurence Durrell spent a number of years in the Hellenic Mediterranean, in Alexandria, Athens, Corfu, Cyprus and Rhodes – this is what he wrote about morning in this part of the world: “…you rise each morning to a new day, a new world, which has to be created from scratch. Each day is a brilliant improvisation with full orchestra – the light on the sea, the foliage, the stabbing cypresses, the silver spindrift olives…” I drag myself out of bed for a quick shower. I ready myself for a new day, a new world, created from scratch.
Standing at the beginning of the breakfast buffet at the Seven Seas, which seems about a mile long, I want to kick myself for not making it out of bed for this on Tuesday and Wednesday. It starts with fresh bread, croissants and pastries, including the pastries with a circle of jam at the center, which are my favorite. There are eggs, sunny-side up and scrambled, piles of bacon, sausages, a pantheon of cereals, yogurt, vanilla French toast and cooked-to-order waffles! A storm of waiters has just finished refilling our coffee mugs and our water glasses as I sit down at our table. My wife has already procured orange juice for me – there’s a constellation of three full glasses beside my place setting. She looks at my plate.
“We’re touring Knossos today, my love. We’re not laying siege to it.”
Our brilliant improvisation with full orchestra on Crete begins as we leave behind the bustle of Heraklion, the city of Hercules and the resting place of Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s most famous son and the author of Zorba the Greek. It’s a short, air-conditioned bus ride to Knossos, the capital of the Minoan civilization, the first in Europe. The hill of Kephala, which hoists the Palace above a valley of pines a few miles outside Heraklion, has been continuously inhabited since 7000 BC. We park outside the site and enter through the West Court, the ancient ceremonial entrance to the Palace, which was the grandest in the Minoan world. Our guide leads us to a shady spot beneath a pine bough, heavy with pine cones, to introduce us to Knossos.
The Minoan civilization, which endured for about 2000 years, was one of the most advanced in the ancient world, and Knossos is one of the instances in which Greek mythology might dovetail with archeological fact. According to Bullfinch’s Mythology, Minos, a legendary king and lawgiver of Crete, was one of Europa’s three sons, all born after her tryst with Zeus, who appeared to Europa as a white bull and carried her off to Crete. The frescoed Palace at Knossos, which comprises more than 1500 rooms, may have been the mythical labyrinth designed by Daedalus wherein Minos imprisoned the Minotaur, a monstrous half-bull, half man born to his wife, Pasiphaë, who was impregnated by a bull sent by Poseidon. The bull had been bequeathed to Minos, who was supposed to sacrifice it in Poseidon’s honor, but Minos thought the bull so exquisite he couldn’t part with it, so Poseidon punished him with a hideous, man-eating stepson. Theseus, the prince of Athens, slew the Minotaur and escaped from the labyrinth thanks to the “sword and the clew of thread” given him by Ariadne: one of the daughters of Minos, a princess of Crete and the Minotaur’s half-sister, she had fallen in love with Theseus soon after he arrived on the island.
“I love the stories,” I tell my wife. Thanks to our guide we don’t need Ariadne’s clew to find our way beneath the pines to the Hall of the Royal Guard, the Hall of the Double Axes, the Queen’s Apartment, and the King Chamber and its alabaster throne, the oldest throne in Europe, which our guide tells us is the model for the seat of the President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. We stroll through the Palace for a short while after our tour concludes, admiring the massive columns which, unlike the columns at Ephesus and Lindos, are perfectly smooth and slightly attenuated toward their bases.
A Portuguese poet, Affonso Romano De Sant’Anna, once wrote that every generation believes it lives at the summit of history, and this is what I think of our cruise so far, that we are traveling from our current summit, the summer of 2013, to those far more ancient and, perhaps, far more lasting. We stop at the bookstore, where my wife purchases a single postcard of the Dolphins Fresco.
“It’s from 1600 BC,” she says. “I’d love to see the original. It’s in the Heraklion Museum.”
“We can only ride one donkey at a time,” I tell her.
“We’ll have to come back,” she says.
Day 4 – Afternoon
It seems as if the entire ship is leaning against the railing on the foredeck and quite abuzz as we approach magnificent Santorini. We are all braving the wind to gaze in awe at its sheer cliffs, which tower above the deep blue Caldera. The wind racing over the bow is powerful, and a bunch of kids are running at the wind, pausing, letting it push them backwards, laughing, their hair blown back. The houses upon the highest ridges look like fistfuls of white chalk, like snow. We are sailing into a postcard.
Our afternoon thus far has been packed, of course. On our return from Crete we attended a disembarkation meeting in the Can Can Lounge, and we’re all set for tomorrow, when we return to the bustle of Piraeus. The cruise director explained the entire procedure, including customs and cab fare to Athens and Venizelos Airport. All we have to do is tag our bags and leave them outside the door to our cabin before we fall asleep. Following the meeting I raced over to the gym, which is brand new and air conditioned. I treated myself to an hour on an elliptical trainer, with a view of the Aegean to my right, followed by a sauna, while my wife attended the Greek dance class in the Oklahoma Lounge, in preparation for “Spotlight on Greece” in the Can Can Lounge tonight. Opa!
Our tour guides are waiting for us as the tender boats arrive at the dock in Athiniós, each of them holding up a bright yellow sign in the shape of a circle with the number of each bus in the middle. High above us the cliffs seem to scrape against the blue sky. As we board our bus I watch a few buses and trucks creep along the narrow roads that thread their way up toward Fira, the largest village on Santorini. We follow a semi, slowly, up the mountain, higher and higher above the Caldera, its surface silvered by the late afternoon sun. This is hands-down one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” my wife says. We are on our way to Oia Village, where we arrive after a drive over the rolling hills inland from the rim of the Caldera. As soon as we step off the bus, some shopkeepers approach us with samples: a basket of pastelaki, peanuts coated with honey and sesame seeds, and small plastic cups of mastiha. Welcome to Oia.
It is as we imagined, white buildings with blue shutters and doors lined up along the edge of the cliff, staring back at the blazing sun. We have two hours to stroll, shop, drink coffee, dream…we fall into a café and sit down for a coffee on the veranda, which juts out over the Jacuzzis and sunbeds and kidney-shaped pools of the villas beneath us like a playing card trying to flee its deck. It feels like we are in mid-air. We can see the Olympia off in the distance. My wife orders a frappe and looks out toward the Caldera.
“This is jaw-dropping,” she says.
On our way back to Athiniós we drive south, toward Fira, through the valleys of northern Santorini on the island’s eastern slope. They are flooded with white houses, as if they had been poured there, like syrup. Here and there they are punctuated by the cerulean domes of small churches.
We make it to Athiniós after a careful crawl down from Fira. The tender boats are waiting for us, and my wife and I sit up on the top deck of our boat for the short ride back to the Olympia, which waits for us below Oia, which I now see is home to a number of brown, pink and sand-colored buildings, some of them folded into its clusters of bright white houses. There is perhaps an hour of daylight left. I take my wife’s hand and close my eyes for a moment. I surrender to the fading sunlight upon the Caldera.
On our return to the ship we purchase a bottle of olive oil, oregano, and a copy of the Louis Cruises DVD, “Jewels of the Aegean.”
“So we don’t forget any of it,” my wife says.
“We won’t,” I tell her. When we arrive at our cabin, to shower and dress for dinner, and to pack, we find our pool towels folded in the shape of an elephant.
Day 4 – Evening
It’s Greek night tonight, and the Can Can Lounge is packed. The stage is set like a taverna, and the burgundy curtain at the back of the stage is dotted with little blue lights, like stars. After a performance of traditional Greek dances, a blond girl, resplendent in heels and a white miniskirt, takes the stage and starts singing, to the accompaniment of a rather skillful bouzouki player, and the Olympia entertainment team begins pulling people from the audience to dance, even the kids, who join the singer on stage, and pretty soon the Can Can Lounge dance floor is full. It’s the music of the islands, bright and lively. Is that dry ice? Yes, it is. They don’t hold back on the Olympia. Not in the least.
The atmosphere is absolutely festive. A few male singers take the stage and tear into a series of Greek songs. The Greeks in the audience know every word, and they sing along, while the rest of us clap our hands, tap our feet and bob our sunburned heads up and down. The Can Can Lounge, where we have been receiving our bus assignments, is now a raucous Greek taverna, and as of 11:00 pm passengers of all ages are still pouring into the room. My wife loves it. She leans over and tells me, “this is the most fun I’ve ever had on a vacation!” The night ends, of course, with Mikis Theodorakis and “Zorba’s Dance” from Zorba the Greek. Opa!
Later that evening, as we fall into bed in our cabin, our four very intense days upon the historic waters of the Aegean come to an end. We are the richer for them.